TripAdvisor users vote Topsail nation's best little beach town

PENDER COUNTY -- Topsail Beach was voted the best little beach town in the USA last week on TripAdvisor, a travel site that lets users rate and review their experiences.

The site listed the 14 best little beach towns in the USA, then let users vote. According to TripAdvisor, Topsail Beach narrowly edged out Jamestown, Rhode Island, Traverse City, Michigan and Morro Bay, California to take the crown.

Other top destinations for small beach towns included nearby Wrightsville Beach and Corolla in North Carolina; Haleiwa, Hawaii; Ogunquit, Maine; Pismo Beach, California; and several others.  

TripAdvisor states Topsail Beach was chosen for the overall list because it remains a beach in its purest form, "without the crowds or chaos of some popular coastal towns." It also states the private, cozy cottages and beachside retreats are all just steps away from the ocean.

The Topsail Beach entry was island-wide, recognizing the 26-mile-long barrier island that also includes Surf City and North Topsail Beach. Here are some features unique to the island, shared by Pender and Onslow counties, that set it apart from other beach towns and likely helped make it the number one little beach town in the country.

1. The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

Beach visitors to Topsail are invited to observe and be a part of the life cycle of sea turtles. Beyond watching baby sea turtles hatch in some seasons, or protect and observe sea turtle nests, Topsail houses one of the nation's most vibrant sea turtle hospitals. Check out the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City and follow turtles through the rehab process. The center also has several turtle releases each summer that draw in large crowds of visitors and school children. Some visitors go to the releases for a chance to meet and greet turtle hospital founder Jean Beasley, a local Topsail Island celebrity.

2. Explore the Intracoastal

Visitors curious about the marshy and mysterious tides of the Intracoastal Waterway can take guided tours. The Belle of Topsail offers tours of the waterway on a replica of a turn-of-the-century riverboat as well as a pirate ship. The waters are also good for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing. Visitors can spot dolphins and an array of wildlife untouched by large resorts or chain hotels.

3. Walking over the swing bridge

While plans are in the works for a large flyover bridge to be built on the island, an old swing bridge is still the only way on and off the south part of the island. Drivers are forced to stop and take in the view of the Intracostal Waterway as sailboats go by the swing bridge. Visitors enjoy walking and riding bikes over the bridge and in recent years, taking selfies on the antique structure.

4. Pier and surf fishing

Several fishing piers dot the shore along Topsail Island offering places to fish year-round. Surf fishing, or shore fishing, is also permitted on Topsail Beach. The island attracts amateurs and professional fisherman alike. At the Surf City Fishing Pier visitors can visit the nearby surfer's memorial along with several dining spots and shopping spots nearby.

5. Free parking

Parking is always free at Topsail Beach. It is first-come, first-served, so come early to events like the July Fourth firework show and holiday flotilla. But on typical beach days, parking can be found at fishing piers and a number of public beach accesses that include trash cans and foot showers.

6. Serenity Point and Lea-Hutaff Island

The southern tip of Topsail Beach where the Intracoastal Waterway meets the ocean, also known as Serenity Point, is a public beach access perfect for visitors looking for the tropical island feel. The waves are small, the water is shallow and crowds go to grill out and bring their own drinks. Boaters can also head south of the island to an unmanned, undeveloped island known as Lea-Hutaff. While the spot is packed with boaters during major holidays, families can enjoy a day parking their boat on the island and playing in the waves.

7. Sprawl out on the beach

No major hotel chains and no resorts means less people are on the shore at Topsail Beach. Like TripAdvisor noted, without glitzy attractions, Topsail is a place to enjoy the beach at its purest, simplest form. Sprawl out on the beach with umbrellas, tents, beach chairs and sandcastles without bumping elbows with fellow visitors.

8. Bring your dog

As long as they are on a leash, Topsail Beach continues to attract dog lovers each year with its dog friendly beaches. Dogs enjoy playing in the waves, rolling in the sand, and meeting other dogs.

9. Discover missiles and hidden treasure

Visitors can stop by the Missiles and More Museum on the south end of the island to learn about the U.S. Navy's secret missile testing program on Topsail Beach during WWII. Legend has it that Topsail Beach got its name from one of the many pirate merchants who traded on shore. The museum houses exhibits on 10 infamous pirates including Blackbeard, who is said to have launched a boat from Topsail Beach hundreds of years ago.

Reporter Ashley Morris can be reached at 910-343-2096 or Ashley.Morris@starnewsonline.com