Topsail Island, a gem of the central North Carolina coast, is enjoyed by many each year. From US Highway 17, visitors travel over the swing bridge on Highway 210 that plunges into the heart of Surf City, at the center of Topsail Island. The bridge turns perpendicular every hour, on the hour, to let the boat traffic come and go through the waterway.
After you cross the bridge, you come to the only traffic light on the whole island, where Highway 210 intersects with Highway 50. Actually, you have been in Surf City for a while at this point, as the municipality straddles both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as the Onslow and Pender County lines. From that traffic light to the left is North Topsail Beach, and down the highway to the right is Topsail Beach.
The nightlife on this 26-mile-long island is mostly centered in Surf City and is fairly well confined to the summer months when the island’s year-round population of 3,500 grows to 35,000.
Maybe you cherish other goals, such as the need to indulge yourself in some swimming, sunbathing, fishing, sailing, diving, and surfing. In that case, take your pick – left, right, or straight onto Surf City’s pier and beach. Find yourself a parking spot, grab your gear, and hit the beach!
Turning right toward Topsail Beach, you have some added attractions with The Missiles and More History Museum and The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. Or, if your idea of a great night is to spend a quiet evening at a luxury oceanfront condominium or at your second residence, you will likely turn left toward North Topsail Beach. All three island communities are separate and distinct, each with its own city government. In addition, all have been developed by leaps and bounds over the past several decades.
According to local legend, marauding pirates in the 17th Century hid in the marshes waiting to pounce on passing merchant ships loaded down with goods. Soon enough the merchants wised up and by looking through their mariner’s telescopes, spied the tops of the pirates’ sails peeking up over a low screen of live oaks.
According to various sources, the island took its name from the numerous sightings of the tops of those wicked sails. Another, far less colorful version of the tale credits Edgar L. Yow, mayor of Wilmington and one of the first homesteaders back in the days with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no bridge, for inventing the name. By the way, in these parts, Topsail is pronounced “topsil.”
So … let’s go ahead and make a right, heading south on Highway 50, to start our tour of this beautiful North Carolina coastal area with Topsail Beach. We will work our way back up to Surf City and then further north. Eventually, we will touch on the mainland once again. Welcome to Topsail Island!