Planning your vacation + things to do in Topsail Island & Surf City, NC
Topsail Island is the perfect getaway for busy families. The towns of Surf City, Topsail Beach, and North Topsail Beach offer shopping and dining opportunities, but the island isn’t covered in high-rises and kitschy stores. We love visiting Topsail (the locals say it “Top-sul”) because we can connect as a family while spending leisurely hours on the beach or in the confines of our vacation rental. You won’t fight for space on the beach here, even at her busiest times.
Here’s my guide to planning your stay on Topsail Island, plus things to do while you are there.
Topsail Island Map
One of the first things you’ll do when considering a stay at Topsail Island is picking your location.
Topsail Island is divided into three jurisdictions- North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. There are two bridges to access the island- one that enters the island at North Topsail and one in Surf City. We like the area in North Topsail near the bridge. If you prefer being able to walk to dining or the fishing pier, maybe a stay in Surf City would be better suited. Topsail Beach is very quiet and similar to the north side of the island.
Topsail Island Rentals
Most of the island’s vacations rentals are managed by local realty companies.
Here are a few to consider:
We have frequently booked with Treasure Realty. Treasure Realty seems to have the biggest selection, especially when it comes to larger homes. However, we did have one year that the rental house was filthy and they were not quick to handle our complaints. Instead, they said that homes rented after the busy summer season will show more wear and tear. We were discouraged by their customer service and tried to book through Airbnb last year, but then found out the house was managed by Treasure, anyway.
So, long story short- you may also want to check Airbnb (get $40 off your first stay!) and VRBO, as owner-managed properties seem to have fewer fees.
When booking your rental, check the cancellation and hurricane policy. Out of 8 or 9 trips, we’ve almost had two canceled because of hurricanes bound for the east coast. Hurricane season is June – December, but we usually travel in September and that seems to be the peak time!
Before searching for a Topsail Island rental, you may want to consider these questions: Do you want to be oceanfront, second row, or sound side? Do you require an elevator? Would you like a community pool or private pool? How many bedrooms will your family need? Beyond bedrooms, consider the bedding configurations. We travel with extended family so we need to look at the number of bunk beds for cousins versus queen or king bedded rooms for couples.
Things to do in Topsail Island, NC
Topsail Island is still fairly quaint and peaceful. If you’re looking for a raving nightlife, I’d look otherwise.
Some ideas to occupy a rainy day or anxious kiddos:
Karen Beasley Turtle Sanctuary – Located on the Mainland of Surf City, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center rescues sick and injured sea turtles and works to restore them to health before returning them to the ocean. Volunteers lead visitors through stations, explaining the unique situations that each turtle faces, and how the center works tirelessly to help. This is a visit the entire family will enjoy, and the guides were very kid-friendly. Visiting hours are Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 pm but you may want to double check the website before you plan your day. Expect a crowd!
Shipwreck Mini Golf – The area’s only mini-golf course, also located on the mainland of Surf City. This is a course suitable for ages 2-100, as it doesn’t involve many stairs or Par 6s (although we scored a few of those)!
Parks – One of our favorite spots on the island is the North Topsail Beach Park. On our last trip, my husband hit tennis balls with our nephews while I played with the kids on the play equipment. There is a short boardwalk/nature walk and there a soundside fishing pier. This is a fun space to spend an evening before the sun goes down, but you may want to pack some bug spray.
Topsail Beach (on the south side of the island) also offers a newer park with playground equipment, a basketball court, and pickleball court.
Topsail Island Restaurants
To be honest, we don’t eat out much when we’re on the island. Having a large kitchen at the beach rental, combined with the desire to get as much “beach time” as possible, means we aren’t leaving the house much!
However, we’ve found a couple of places we like to visit.
Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille – This Surf City restaurant has moderately priced meals, great seafood, and a view of the beach. If the weather is great, a spot on the oceanfront deck is best. They have large portioned kids’ meals, too.
Buddy’s Crab House & Oyster Bar – This is like the pub you visited in college that wasn’t really classy, but you liked it because it felt like home. Buddy’s is decorated with dollar bills and boasts a screened-in porch overlooking the beach and Surf City Pier. Come here if Mom agrees to watch the kids (or bring them) – drink a beer, eat some hush puppies, and watch the sun go down.
For more dining ideas check out the reviews at Tripadvisor.
I hope this guide helps you plan a trip overflowing the family memories. A week on Topsail has that effect. 😉
Have you been to Topsail?
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