When you think of a North Carolina beach vacation, visions of warm spring walks on the sand and toasty summer afternoons swimming in the ocean probably come to mind. But winter on Topsail Island can be magical in a totally different way, as the beaches clear and the crowds trickle out of the local restaurants and off the pier.
The winter months on Topsail Island may be too chilly for swimsuits and sandals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still soak up the sun while beachcombing for shells and checking out the indoor attractions on the island.
Plus, it’s a great time to take advantage of the amenities of your Topsail Island vacation rental, whether that means watching the sunrise from an oceanfront balcony while leisurely sipping a cup of coffee or getting toasty in the hot tub after a wintery walk.
If you’re considering a winter beach getaway to Topsail Island, this guide will help you prepare for the weather and find the best off-season things to do in Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach.
Winter Weather on Topsail Island
You may be wondering if the east coast of North Carolina is too cold in winter, or whether it is worth it to visit Topsail Island this time of year. While visiting Topsail Island in winter is not a tropical escape from the cold, this part of North Carolina has pretty mild winters with little to no snow and temperatures that typically stay above freezing.
In the middle of winter, afternoon temperatures are often in the 40s and 50s, but weather patterns on the coast also bring random days where the highs barely hit 30 or top 65. Winter low temperatures are typically in the 30s and 40s, so plan to bundle up for morning walks on the sand.
At the tail end of the season in March, the chill starts to melt away, and highs frequently hit the upper 60s and can even top 75 when a heat wave passes through. Lows during this time may still drop to the 40s, but a chance of a freeze tapers off as March progresses.
While a winter freeze on Topsail Island is not impossible, the towns here average less than an inch of snow annually, so it’s unlikely to see snowflakes stick to the sand.
Things To Do in Winter on Topsail Island
Enjoy a winter beach day
While it’s too cold for swimming and surfing on Topsail Island in winter, you don’t have to rule out all beach activities. Since the summer crowds are long gone from the sand, the seaside turns into a peaceful oasis for afternoon strolls and beachcombing for shells.
The island is 26 miles long with dozens of beach access points in Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail. Serenity Point on the far southern tip of the island where the Intracoastal Waterway brushes the Atlantic Ocean is a quiet spot to explore, especially in winter. The area is undeveloped and a beautiful place to take a picnic lunch, fly a kite, build sandcastles, and watch the sunset. Just be sure to bundle up on winter days!
Hang out at the pier
You’ve heard of bar hopping, but have you heard of pier hopping? Each of the towns on Topsail Island has a wooden pier jutting out into the ocean, and the off-season is the perfect time to check them out without any crowds. You can visit during the day and drop a line for some winter fishing or make your way out to the tip of the boardwalk for early winter sunsets over the ocean before dinner.
Seaview Pier in North Topsail Beach is one of the longest wooden fishing piers on the North Carolina coast and has a bait and tackle shop. The Seaview Pier Restaurant at the base of the promenade serves seafood platters, but check the seasonal hours before you go.
There are a couple of local restaurants and a coffee shop near Surf City Ocean Pier. Built in 1948, the pier stretches out for 937 feet and has lights for night fishing. While the services are typically closed in winter, the public beach entry a few yards away provides access to the base, and you can watch the waves lapping against the stilts at sunset.
At 850 feet long, the Jolly Roger Pier in Topsail Beach is a great place to go fishing or go for a walk over the sea. You have to pay a fee to use the fishing pier, which includes a fishing license for anglers, but it’s a beautiful spot to enjoy the views of the south end of the island or to grab a bite at the oceanfront restaurant.
Hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Hiking is a great outdoorsy activity for winter on Topsail Island and you can even hop on a famous trail that runs along the beach here. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a 1,200-mile route in North Carolina that extends from Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks, passing through swamps, historic towns, farmlands, and barrier islands.
Along the way, the trail crosses about 8 miles of beachfront between Surf City and North Topsail Beach. You can take a casual stroll along the sand here to say you’ve walked part of the Mountains-to-Sea or go for a long beach hike to tackle the whole 8-mile section.
Play a round of golf
Even when it’s a bit chilly, winter days are perfect for playing a round of golf near Topsail Island, and some clubs even provide off-season discounts. While there aren’t any golf courses on the island, the closest ones are just a few minutes away on the mainland.
If you’re looking for a spot to play 18 holes, check out the North Shore Golf Course in Sneads Ferry, less than 5 minutes from North Topsail Beach, or Ironclad Golf and Beer in Hampstead, about 20 minutes from Surf City.
Have a drink in Surf City
If you’re looking for the best place on Topsail Island for dinner and drinks in the winter, head over to Surf City. Topsail Drive and Shore Drive have the largest concentration of beach bars and restaurants on the island.
While many of the seafood restaurants offer wine and beer menus, there are also a few fun bars on the island for pre-dinner drinks. Check out the Peak Taphouse and Kitchen for the widest selection of drafts in Surf City, unWINEd Wine Bar and Beer for live music, or Eventide to grab a craft beer, wine, and cigars to go. Just across Surf City Bridge on the mainland are more options, like the veteran-owned brewery Salty Turtle Beer Company and Gilligans Cocktail Bar.
It’s always best to check the winter hours of the bars and restaurants before heading out since they can change seasonally.
Go to the park
On windy winter days when the beach side of the island feels a bit too chilly to spend time outdoors, head over to the sound side for parks with picnic tables, walking paths, and playgrounds.
Kenneth D. Batts Family Park in Surf City has a long boardwalk that stretches out into the Intracoastal Waterway, plus a basketball court, playground, and picnic shelters. Soundside Park near the Surf City Bridge also has play and picnic areas, plus a boardwalk with a fishing pier and public boat ramp.
On the north side of the island, check out the North Topsail Beach Town Park for sports courts, nature trails, and a kayak launch into the Stump Sound.
Off-season vibe on Topsail Island
Visiting Topsail Island in winter is very different from a summer vacation to the island, so you should plan your getaway with a few things in mind.
The low season means that some businesses will close for the winter or have limited hours. A couple of the most popular attractions on the island, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and the Missiles and More Museum typically do not open in the winter. Likewise, some warm-weather activities like boat rides and fishing charters may not be available.
It’s always best to contact vendors in advance about their winter availability and hours if you have your heart set on a certain activity. Some restaurants, shops, and galleries may have limited winter hours or close for the season as well.
The upside to the off-season, though, is a total lack of crowds across the island. Plus, even when the weather is chilly, the breathtaking ocean views don’t change and you can enjoy the sea air from the balcony of your vacation home bundled up in a cozy blanket.