Off the southern coast of North Carolina lies a 26-mile long spit of sand that’s hard to leave. Topsail Island has everything I look for at the coast…luscious, white sand; water, shifting from sea green to bright azure, stretching to the horizon; and the opportunity to find a stretch of beach to call your own. It’s nothing special, but that’s why I love it.
Unlike a lot of popular beaches, Topsail isn’t very developed. I think there is one stoplight on the entire island. There are rows of beach houses with clever names, boutique stores and surf shops, ice cream shops, and small motels, but not much else. No strip malls, clubs, car dealerships, or anything of that nature. There’s not much to do other than unfold a beach chair, smooth on sunscreen and enjoy some time with the family. It’s nothing special, but that’s what makes it special.
On the island, time ebbs and flows slowly, like the tide. Maybe I’ll wake up to see the sunrise, or awake later to the sound of waves drumming an endless rhythm on the sand. The biggest event of the day might be a game of bocce ball or finding a perfect black and grey shark’s tooth. The biggest island attractions are fishing – on the pier or the shore – or you can just watch the minnows dart around in the shallows between suntanned legs. I like bird watching. Pelicans glide in pairs or groups above the dunes, parallel to shore, sand pipers’ legs flit quickly across hot sand and a constant, refreshing breeze ruffles the feathers of a lone seagull. It’s nothing special, but that’s the beauty of it.
I was just there for a week with my husband’s family during their annual vacation. During my time at the ocean-front house I read four books, completed four puzzles, won three games of shuffleboard, and ate entirely too many servings of ice cream. I watched the sun rise over the ocean and set over the sound. I saw a fisherman catch and release a baby stingray. I scanned the ocean for dolphins but didn’t see any this time, although a few other people were lucky and saw some. The vacation as a whole was nothing special, but I know these memories of Topsail will be the ones I cherish for years to come.
One of the books I read was Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea by Ray McAllister. A good beach read, McAllister offers a well-rounded view of the island’s history and what makes it unique through stories and anecdotes from people who have lived or vacationed on Topsail for decades. Some of the stories could be just rumors (Did the pirate Blackbeard hide in the sound waiting to ambush other ships, who soon learned to look for his sails behind the dunes? Is there buried treasure somewhere beneath the sand on the island?) and others focus on Topsail’s future (the north end of the island is eroding, and sand is being deposited on the south end). If you’re a weather nut like me, you’ll like the hurricane chapter. 1996 was a particularly bad summer for the island, with a one-two punch from Bertha and Fran. McAllister also discusses the eight mysterious towers on the island, left over from when the military used the island as a place to develop and test missiles, aka Operation Bumblebee. I found it interesting to learn more about the place I’ve been coming to for years.
What’s your favorite island or beach for a family vacation?