Topsail Beach Guide
Tucked away in the south end, Topsail Beach is the smallest of the three cities on the island and the most private. Without a bridge to connect it to the mainland, Topsail Beach sees the least traffic during the peak tourist season. Houses are hidden away under the mossy boughs of shrub oak trees, in the dense maritime forests that once covered the entire island.
Here, where the land ends, a secret military project commenced on the heels of WWII. Topsail Beach was built on the remains of Operation Bumblebee and as the years go by, the village has changed very little. Lost to time, the town attracts year-long residents and visitors who savor the privacy and community they’ve discovered here, on Topsail Island.
A Sleepy Little Town
Topsail Beach can be found on the south end of Topsail Island, about 15 minutes by car from the Surf City swing bridge. Although the residential area sprawls all the way to the inlet, the shops that make up the city center cover only four blocks. With a general store, several restaurants, a museum, and a post office, this tiny town remains surprisingly vital.
More of a village than a town, Topsail Beach has a lively community of residents who live and work in the town. At lunchtime, you just might find the Mayor of the town eating lunch at a nearby restaurant with a small entourage of city officials. City Council meetings reflect the town’s tiny stature, addressing issues like unleashed dogs and trash cans being left out all week. In the winter, the town’s population dives to a mere 368, and yet the town still manages to hold spectacular festivals like Autumn with Topsail in October and the Jingle Bell Ball in December.
Some locals have held onto their homes as soaring condos have been built up around them, creating a charming mishmash of the old and the new. A few homes have stayed in the family for forty years or more and the owners can still recount stories of Hurricane Hazel, a storm that devastated the island in the 1950s. The storm left the concrete buildings constructed by the US Navy and the old skating rink above the post office but carried off entire houses and even an old tub.
Built on History
When Operation Bumblebee began on the island, it was barely inhabited making it an ideal location for testing the prototype SAM missiles. Over the course of the project, the Navy built roads, a barracks, several observational towers, a bunker, and the Assembly Building. Most of these structures still remain standing today but have found new purposes over the years.
Thanks to the Navy, the island now had roads crossing the island and electricity. And with roads and power came businesses. Warren’s Soda Shop, a classic ice cream counter built in the 1950s, was a destination for teens and tourists alike. Now, as the Beach Shop and Grill, people still come for hamburgers and good conversation even as the soda fountain fades into memory.
Built in the same year, Goodwin’s New Topsail Market has weathered the years as the only convenience store on the south end of the island and still carries a little of everything.
Nearly all of Operation Bumblebee’s observation towers have been converted into private homes all along the ocean side of the island. The barracks have been converted into the Breezeway Motel and the bunker now stores extra linens and furniture for the Jolly Rodger. The Assembly Building, however, remains a tribute to Topsail Beach’s past by serving as the town’s museum. To find out more about Operation Bumblebee, be sure to visit the Missiles and More Museum or read more about it on our website.
When the Sun Goes Down
On most evenings over the long summer, the town is alive with music and laughter, humming with vacationers as everyone tries to soak up the last rays of the setting sun. Once night falls, the town is lit by the cheerful glow of the Patio Playground—a putt-putt golf course, arcade, and ice cream parlor painted in crayon box variety of colors—and old pop hits play over the loudspeakers as families try to finish that last hole of golf.
The old skating rink is open, too, as it has been for more than fifty years. From 7-10 every night, the rink opens its doors to skaters where, for $10, you can skate all night. Walking up the stairs, you can hear the rumble of wheels over the wooden floor and the music of the scratched 45’s playing on the record machine before you catch a glimpse of the skates standing in a neat line behind the counter. Underneath the skating rink is the town post office, where you can send postcards back home. Inside, shelves of puzzles and faded paperbacks, mostly thrillers and romance novels left by vacationers over the years, are sold on the honor system for a buck or two.
Next door is Quarter Moon which offers coffee and wine at the counter and sells books, clothes, and gifts in the back of the store. On nights when the patio hosts local musicians, the tables become crowded as folks sit back with a drink and listen as the sun sets on Topsail Beach.
Sea for Yourself
For many who return to the island year after year, Topsail Beach provides the perfect escape from their hectic lives. Topsail Beach has the least crowded beaches on the island, even on holidays, perfect for beachcombing or long walks under the hot summer sun. Here, there’s no need to navigate around flocks of children or sunbathers laying out on towels while you walk along the beach. Instead, enjoy the endless stretch of golden sand, interrupted only by the occasional couple out walking their dog or a lone sandcastle waiting to be swept away by the incoming tide.