Topsail Island, N.C., folklore claims the name, Topsail (pronounced Top'sul), dates back to the 1700s when the area was home to Blackbeard and his marauding gang. Pirates often hid their ships behind this thin ribbon of island to ambush passing merchant ships loaded with goods. Eventually merchants caught on and began watching for the tops of the pirates' sails peeking over the live oak trees—hence the name, Topsail Island.
Topsail Island is a 26-mile-long barrier island located approximately 45 minutes north of Wilmington, NC. Two bridges allow access to the island, a swing bridge in Surf City and a high-rise bridge that connects mainland's Sneads Ferry, NC to North Topsail Beach, NC. Topsail Island is home to three distinct towns.
On the northernmost end of the island is North Topsail Beach. Visitors will find a peaceful beach, a variety of rental cottages and a few high-rise condominiums complexes. Surf City, in the geographic center of the island, is the island's commercial hub with many shops and restaurants. At the southern end of the island is Topsail Beach which has a downtown area with shops and restaurants.
A single main road runs parallel to the ocean along the length of this narrow 26-mile-long island. In a few instances on the wider parts of the island, there an additional smaller street or two running parallel to the ocean, but there is still only one traffic light on the entire island strand. The 3,500 year-round residents here enjoy a relatively quiet lifestyle on the beach, that is until summer rolls around and Topsail's summer population swells to 35,000.
Today, Topsail Island is a popular vacation destination. Water enthusiasts can fish, surf, sail, kite board, kayak and swim. Land lovers have access to a number of great golf courses located just off the island or they can tour the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and see a variety of endangered sea turtles, or learn about Topsail's past as a former government rocket launch testing site at the Missiles and More Museum.