North Topsail Beach vs. Surf City? Which is the Best Place to Live

April 27, 2024

One of eastern North Carolina’s most coveted beach destinations, Topsail Beach consists of three main towns: North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach. All three are spectacular seaside communities to call home – whether you’re looking for a single-family home, vacation oasis, or retirement property.

However, each town has its unique pros and cons and appeals more to a specific type of crowd.

Unless you’ve spent significant time in the area, understanding these differences can feel next to impossible. We’ve put together this guide to help you compare and contrast life in two of these lively coastal towns: North Topsail Beach and Surf City.

Breakdown by Category

Atmosphere & culture 

North Topsail Beach

Attracting residents in search of a peaceful, coastal community, North Topsail Beach boasts some of the most beautiful, serene beaches on the North Carolina coast. While the area gets its fair share of tourists, it draws a quieter crowd than many other beach towns. This low-key coastal town is one of the best places for a relaxing vacation property!

Surf City

The most commercialized area of the island, Surf City is an excellent tourist destination for vacationers looking for a fun, lively seaside escape. 

Foodies love the place! Whether you like seafood or barbeque, tacos or hotdogs, there’s something in Surf City for you. Some of the most popular restaurants? Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille, Sears Landing, Surf City Barbeque, Max’s Pizza , Shaka Taco, Coastal Wings & Spirits, and Island Delights.

With very few big box stores in city limits, Surf City offers a more boutique shopping experience, featuring unique surf shops, decor shops, and other local shops and markets. That being said, if you need to get to a Target or another big box store (other than Walmart or Lowes), you’ll have to take a 30-minute drive north to Jacksonville or south to Wilmington.

Cost of Living

North Topsail Beach

Overall cost of living in North Topsail Beach is generally lower than that in Surf City. With a median home price somewhere around $475K and a wide range of even cheaper condo options, you’ll have an easier time finding a home you can afford in this sweet little town.

Due to its northern location on the island and residential nature, other expenses – like grocery and utilities – also run slightly lower than Surf City.

Surf City

On the other hand, Surf City falls a little more on the expensive side as a result of a higher market demand and the steady tourist population. Centrally located on Topsail Island, residents and visitors typically face higher grocery and transportation costs.

Want to purchase a home in the area? With a median home price around $650K, a strong household income is essential (about $40,000 for individuals and $125,000+ for families).


North Topsail Beach

Considered far and wide a fisherman’s paradise, North Topsail Beach is known for its ample outdoor activities – from fishing and kayaking to boating and other water sports. Plus, locals claim it’s the very best place to find shark teeth. 

Looking for a place where your four-legged friend can roam the beach? North Topsail Beach boasts some of the most dog-friendly beaches in the area.

Surf City

More of an extrovert? With an abundance of options for dining, shopping, nightlife, and other unique coastal activities and events, Surf City is ideal for the more socially inclined. There’s always something to do, between local festivals and fairs, movies in the park, live music events, and so much more.

Another important note: During peak tourist season and large events, you’ll experience a bit of a spike in traffic and restaurant waiting times. 

Housing Market

North Topsail Beach

As already briefly mentioned, North Topsail Beach feels less commercial and more residential, offering a wide variety of single-family home and condo options.That being said, the town likely home to the least number primary residences of all three Topsail Island towns.

Currently, North Topsail Beach single-family homes range from $400K up to $5-6 million. Meanwhile, local condos run anywhere from $180K to over $400K. If you opt to rent, you’re looking at rates of about $2.5-5K per month.

Surf City

Down in Surf City, most all of your housing prices run higher, with houses starting around $500K and condos around $250K. However, rentals are significantly more affordable than up in North Topsail, falling as low as $1.5 per month. 

Of all three towns on the island, Surf City has the highest percentage of primary residences (albeit considerably lower than neighboring towns like Holly Ridge and Hampstead). 

The Verdict? It Depends On Your Priorities

While both North Topsail Beach and Surf City are wonderful places to live, each has a unique personality and appeal. The right pick ultimately depends on YOUR lifestyle: 

  • Choose North Topsail Beach if you’re seeking serene beaches, natural beauty and adventure, and a more affordable cost of living.
  • Choose Surf City if you desire a lively social scene, a constant flow of local activities, and a spunky beach town vibe.

But remember, at the end of the day, there’s no better way to get a sense of the area than to come visit and explore yourself. 

Capital Asset Development | Coastal NC & SC Custom Home Builder

Take the first step towards your coastal dream by contacting Capital Asset Development today. Let us guide you through the exciting journey of designing and building your extraordinary custom home in North Topsail Beach, Surf City, or any of the captivating coastal enclaves that grace this remarkable region. 

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