When you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing getaway on the coast of North Carolina, it doesn’t get much better than North Topsail Beach. The sun-soaked town is located on the north end of Topsail Island, a 26-mile-long barrier island less than an hour from Wilmington.
Here, the Atlantic waves wash onto more than 10 miles of soft, sandy oceanfront, inviting vacationers to kick off their shoes for relaxing afternoons on the beach or wake up early for breathtaking sunrises that paint the horizon in shades of pink and orange.
With the islet-dotted Stump Sound on the other side of North Topsail Beach, this is also an ideal spot to practice your paddling skills — just rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and head to one of the city’s public launches for a fun outing on calm waters.
Whether you make the town your base for boating and deep sea fishing, come to watch the sea turtles hatch, or just want to escape to a breezy cottage with ocean views, North Topsail Beach is the perfect place.
And this guide to the best things to do in North Topsail Beach will help you plan out your trip, with ideas for where to go on a bike ride, chow down on the catch of the day, and take a day trip out on the water.
Spend the day on the beach
When you vacation on the coast of North Carolina, you are going to want to spend some time enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches of its barrier islands and coastal towns.
North Topsail Beach has dozens of access points along miles of shorefront, including a couple of handicap-accessible entrances across from Town Park and at Island Drive and Ocean Drive.
There are so many ways for the whole family to spend a fun day at the beach in North Topsail — bring a sand bucket and shovel and build castle creations with the kids, rent or buy a boogie board to play on the waves, go for a beachcombing walk in the seafoam at dawn, or bring a beach ball or volleyball for a fun game with your travel crew.
The town of North Topsail Beach charges a parking fee at public beaches that starts at $5 an hour. If you’re visiting for more than four days, you may want to purchase the weekly parking pass to save on daily costs.
Hang out at North Topsail Beach Town Park
North Topsail Beach Town Park is the perfect spot for some family fun outdoors when you need a break from the sand. Traveling with kids? The park offers a fenced-in play area for little ones with swings and monkey bars, plus sports courts for getting in a game of basketball, tennis, or volleyball.
Come here in the morning to look for wildlife along the park’s nature trails or in the afternoon to grill hot dogs and hamburgers for a picnic under the shady pavilions. On hot summer days, you can even grab a sweet Italian ice cone from the ice cream counter next to the park.
The park also has a pier and a kayak launch with access to the bay side of the island, perfect for paddling excursions out in the Stump Sound.
Hang out at the Seaview Pier
Seaview Pier is a popular destination in North Topsail Beach. One of the longest fishing piers on the coast of North Carolina, the wooden boardwalk is the perfect spot to drop a line. You can grab gear and bait from a small tackle shop right next to the jetty.
Even if you aren’t into fishing, you can come here for a relaxing sunset stroll out over the water to breathe in the sea air and watch the waves lapping below. The restaurant at the start of the promenade is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a menu of seafood specialties like oyster plates, boom boom shrimp, and fried calamari served with crispy hushpuppies.
If you want to check out some other piers on the island, Surf City has the Surf City Ocean Pier with an ice cream shop and lights for night fishing and Topsail Beach has the Jolly Roger Pier with an oceanfront restaurant.
Take a surf lesson
Dreaming of surfing under the sun like a pro? You can sign up for surf lessons in North Topsail Beach. The family-run North Topsail Surf and Paddle offers both group and individual sessions that last for an hour. In the class, the surf instructor will teach you the basics of how to spot the right wave, when to start paddling, and the proper technique to hop to your feet before sending you out into the ocean for a practice run.
If you already have some experience riding the waves, the company also rents out surfboards by the hour, day, or week. From the rental shop, you can grab skimboards, stand-up paddleboards, single and tandem kayaks, and other beach equipment like lounge chairs, shady canopies, and games to play on the sand.
Bike around the island
North Topsail Beach has a bike and pedestrian path that starts from the parking lot at the city’s Town Hall and runs north for about a mile along New River Inlet Road, with views of the sea the whole way. The trail ends at North Topsail Beach Park, where you can have picnics under the shade pavilions or play a game of tennis on the sports courts.
Bike rentals and shady bike trailers for tots are available from local vendors like North Topsail Surf and Paddle. You can borrow the bikes for just a couple of hours, a day or two, or the whole week. Longer rental periods usually offer the best deals.
Go kayaking in the sound
The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are a great place to go out kayaking, and North Topsail Beach is no exception. You can rent either solo or tandem kayaks from local vendors for the afternoon to take out in the ocean or the Stump Sound.
The town has a couple of public launching spots on the Intracoastal Waterway at the popular North Topsail Beach Town Park and at W. Rodney Knowles Park, a smaller recreation spot with an observation deck and a picnic shelter with a charcoal grill.
Rental kayaks typically include a paddle and life jacket. You can rent the watercraft for just a couple of hours or reserve it for a whole week if you plan to take it out several times. Some local companies even offer kayaking tours where you can paddle out at sunset with a small group.
Learn to stand-up paddleboard
Stand-up paddleboarding is another fun way to get out on the water off the shores of North Topsail Beach. If you have experience with the sport, you can rent a board and paddles and take off for adventures in the sound, weaving around the islets, or out into the ocean when the conditions are calm.
Paddle NC, a local water sports rental vendor, also offers lessons for anyone who wants to try out paddling for the first time. The introductory classes last for a couple of hours and include a tour with an experienced instructor.
Attend the summer Ocean City Jazz Festival
Held each year over the July 4th holiday weekend, the Ocean City Jazz Festival is a celebration of music and heritage. Nationally known jazz musicians flock here each year to put on concerts during the summer event, which also includes a silent auction, parties, and food trucks.
The Ocean City community in North Topsail Beach was established in the late 1940s as the only destination in North Carolina where African Americans could purchase a residential oceanfront property. The jazz fest came 60 years later when a saxophonist from Fayetteville, North Carolina, put on a show on the porch of the local community center. Ocean City is part of the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail.
Explore the Permuda Island Reserve
Located in the Stump Sound, the Intracoastal Waterway between North Topsail Beach and the mainland, the Permuda Island Reserve is a narrow little islet about a mile and a half long. In its ancient history, the island was used for its marine resources, with oysters, clams, crabs, and scallops providing sustenance to the American Indians who hunted here.
Today, the island is best viewed from the water — even though old agricultural fields exist in the center of the island, the exterior is surrounded by an unfriendly environment of thick vegetation that is challenging to navigate.
Permuda Island is the perfect destination for a kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding outing, reachable from the public launches at soundside parks in North Topsail. If you’d rather visit on a tour, Paddle NC offers guided excursions on solo and tandem kayaks to explore the area.
Dine by the sea
A beach vacation really isn’t complete until you’re sitting on the patio of a restaurant on a warm evening with the salty sea breeze brushing through and a basket of seafood and crispy fries on the table in front of you.
Luckily, North Topsail Beach has a few open-air and oceanfront eateries where you can kick back with a cold brew and sample some North Carolina specialties.
The Seaview Pier Restaurant is a casual joint with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the city’s wooden dock on the beach. At this spot, you can order a simple fish and chips plate with crispy fries or go for scallops, oysters, shrimp, or calamari. Most meals come with Southern sides like potato salad, cole slaw, fried okra, or hush puppies.
For something a little more upscale, Oceans Edge Restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room overlooking the Atlantic. Appetizers like creamy crab dip and wasabi tuna accompany a menu of surf and turf entrees — think grilled yellowfin tuna, black angus New York strip steak, and shrimp scampi with fettuccine. The house specialty here is an elevated shrimp and grits dish with mixed peppers, bacon, and sausage in a white wine reduction sauce.
Splash by the Sea adds live music to the island dining vibes and is open for lunch and dinner with indoor and outdoor seating. Order a shrimp cocktail or tuna-topped nachos before trying the catch of the day or a shareable steam pot of lobster, shrimp, and kielbasa.
Drive on the beach
Four-wheel drive vehicles can cruise right onto the sand at the far north beach access in North Topsail Beach, where the New River inlet flows out into the ocean. Located where River Drive ends, the beach access requires a special pass from the city to drive onto it, and ATVs, go-karts, and motorcycles are not allowed.
If you want to check out the far end of the island but don’t have a 4×4 vehicle, you can park in the paved lot near the end of the road and walk onto the beach. Swimming in the inlet is not advised as the conditions here are dangerous.
Have a frosty drink at the Tiki Bar
Cool off from a hot day in the sun with happy hour at the Tiki Bar at North End Market, located near the north end of the island. The casual open-air hangout has brews and mixed drinks, including some frosty tropical concoctions perfect for the beach. Stop by to cool off with a cold drink or stay for festive weekly karaoke sessions.
More wine bars, breweries, and beach bars are located nearby in Surf City.
Book a fishing charter
Deep sea fishing excursions from the island are one of the best things to do in North Topsail Beach. If you don’t have your own boat, local vendors based out of nearby communities like Surf City, Sneads Ferry, and Hampstead offer small-group boat tours and private charters for a few hours or a full day out to sea.
Look for options that include a fishing license and cleaning and fileting service so you can take your catches back to your rental home to cook up for dinner. Depending on the season, you’ll be on the hunt for Spanish mackerel, grouper, sea bass, or albacore tuna.
Visit the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehab in Surf City
Topsail Island is a nesting home of sea turtles, and you can sometimes see their protected habitats on the sands of North Topsail Beach (never disturb them). If you want to learn more about the creatures, pay a visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in nearby Surf City, North Carolina.
The facility serves to oversee and safeguard the nesting spots on local beaches and has a sea turtle hospital. You can tour the center to see some of the turtle patients and shop for cute turtle souvenirs in the onsite gift shop.
Take a day trip to Hammocks Beach State Park
If you’re visiting North Topsail Beach on a longer vacation, you may want to take a day trip or two to mix up the scenery. Luckily, there are some fantastic North Carolina state parks nearby that you can explore by foot and boat.
Hammocks Beach State Park is about a 40-mile drive from North Topsail Beach, but you’ll want to also take a ferry to get the full experience. The park has a mainland area and a trio of barrier islands surrounded by swamp forests and marshes. Bear Island, the largest at 4 miles long, is accessible from the mainland by a ferry, or you can explore the whole area on paddling trails that weave through the channels. On the mainland, you can walk on 2.3 miles of hiking paths, check out the exhibits in the visitor center, or have a picnic under shade trees.
If you want to go paddling in this area, you can either take out your own vessels from the boat ramp or borrow a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from the onsite vendor. Paddle NC operates a rental center here and offers half-day or full-day eco-tours and outings to Bear Island. You can also book stand-up paddleboard tours and lessons.
You’ll Love Your Vacation to North Topsail Beach
Topsail Island comprises 2 distinct towns: Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach. All 3 areas offer its visitors a completely unique experience but given the small size of the island, it’s easy to hop from one town to another. Although with these 15 great things to do on North Topsail Beach, you might be tempted to keep your vacation set in just this one area!