The Best of Topsail Island, NC for Families

Topsail Island offers a 26-mile-long barrier island that lies just off the coast of North Carolina.  Accessible only by two bridges (one at each end of the island) or by sea, the island is home to immaculate white, sandy beaches and tranquil maritime forests.

Topsail Island

The island’s three communities, North Topsail Beach, Surf City and Topsail Beach all share a laid-back vibe, have gorgeous natural surroundings and are equipped with modern amenities, guaranteeing a relaxed getaway. Here are tips and suggestions on how to have the best family getaway on Topsail Island.

What to do?

Topsail Island is known for its long stretches of white sandy beaches that create the perfect setting for all kinds of water activities: sunbathing, fishing and swimming for those looking to achieve complete relaxation, and surfing, jet skiing and cycling for the more adventurous types. Rent a surfboard from one of the local surf shops (we recommend the friendly, family-run 50 South Surf) where you can rent a surfboard, get some tips from the locals on where to find the best swell, and catch a wave at The Point on the northern tip of the island.

If you’re feeling the need for speed, rent a jet ski. You can make a day of it with a guided tour, or just hire a jet ski for an hour or two. Fishing enthusiasts can charter a boat, and spend the day fishing the deep waters off the coast or for a more local experience, visit one of the many fishing piers on the island. The Jolly Roger Pier at the southern end of Topsail is a popular fishing spot where you can mingle with locals and admire their catches. While you won’t need a license to fish off a pier, you are required to pay a small fee. It is also worth a visit to the pier just for a morning or evening stroll.

The Queen Jean, docked at Topsail Beach, offers half-day fishing trips and kids’ fishing adventures as well as evening sunset cruises.

At sundown, head to the little, well-kept Soundside Park (on the marsh side) – definitely the best place to take in the beautiful sunset Topsail Island is famous for. There’s a well maintained playground for younger kids to enjoy, clean bathrooms, and plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the view, watching life (and sailboats!) go by.

Topsail Island

Topsail Island has a network of well-maintained cycling paths that are great to explore. Within Surf City, Herring’s Outdoor Sports provides rental bikes from half days, up to a week. Spring and fall are perfect periods for riding in the area, with mild temperatures and less traffic.

While you’re on the island, visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Topsail Island is a sanctuary for sea turtles and here you can visit the turtle hospital, observe turtles and even volunteer to guard nests on the beach throughout the summer. A great activity for the kids! And be sure to check online for turtle release dates that occur periodically throughout the warmer months.

Where to eat?

A well spent day deserves a good dinner and on Topsail, there’s a variety of restaurants catering to all tastes. A classy family friendly option is Beach Shop & Grill. Established in 1952, this local institution serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner made from delicious local produce. Save room for a slice of their famous Mile High Key Lime Pie!

Another casual, popular spot is Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille, which has a fantastic outdoor seating area that overlooks Surf City Pier and the Atlantic Ocean. There’s also an exclusively vegetarian and gluten-free offering.

Quarter Moon Café is by day a friendly coffee shop, gift shop, and bookstore, and at night transforms into a wine bar. Grab a latte, iced lemonade or smoothie and enjoy the thoughtful book collection for adults and kids, or a glass of wine in the evening while listening to live music on the weekends.

Where to stay?

In summer you’ll find many rental options, from private to managed rentals. Ward Realty offers private and cozy cottages and beachside retreats, all of which are just steps away from the ocean. In peak season, the majority of rentals are weekly, but just after Labor Day you will be able to find weekend rentals.

My big tip: be sure to ask if the rental provides linens – some do, some don’t, and you don’t want to be caught short! Linens are often available for an additional fee when not included in your base rental rate.

For those planning to stay on the island, there are many options to buy provisions. A well-stocked IGA in Surf City has all the essentials, and 5-10 minutes off the island you’ll find a Walmart Market, a large Harris Teeter grocery store, CVS pharmacy, and a Dollar General for all the extras.

 Shannon Tennyson is a mom of a tween and a young teen in North Carolina who loves adventure. She and her family explore North Carolina beaches annually. Shannon is also the founder of CALZICO, a travel friendly, globally-inspired, versatile clothing brand for tweens launching in November 2016 on Kickstarter.