A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

As Mayor Teresa Batts approaches the top of Surf City Bridge on foot, a strip of deep blue ocean appears beyond the family-owned restaurants, shops, and beach homes before her.

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

As Mayor Teresa Batts approaches the top of Surf City Bridge on foot, a strip of deep blue ocean appears beyond the family-owned restaurants, shops, and beach homes before her.

5 Ways to Discover Surf City

Kenneth D. Batts boardwalk at sunset in Surf City.

As Mayor Teresa Batts approaches the top of Surf City Bridge on foot, a strip of deep blue ocean appears beyond the family-owned restaurants, shops, and beach homes before her. Only 75 years ago, Surf City became an incorporated town. Batts, a third-generation local, has witnessed the town’s transformation from a small fishing village into today’s bustling vacation destination during her lifetime. She remembers when the bridge between the town’s island side and mainland was a swing bridge, which her grandfather tended when it first opened in 1955. Despite these changes, Batts says Surf City feels true to the place she knew as a child. “It has grown exponentially, and I’m proud to say that it still maintains that hometown feel.”

As the town celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2024, elements of this history can be found throughout the area, from exhibits at local attractions to celebrations tied into recurring town events; click here to learn more. There’s no better time to visit and discover this special barrier island setting. Read on for your guide to breathing in the ocean air on this slice of North Carolina’s coast.


The beach and Surf City Pier

The Surf City Pier attracts anglers, sightseers, and picnickers to its 937-foot-long stretch above the Atlantic Ocean. Photography courtesy of Town of Surf City

Hit the Beach

“Surf City truly is a haven for ocean lovers like us,” Batts says. Spanning the length of Surf City’s beachfront, nearly 40 public accesses lead to miles of sand and surf. The wide blue skies offer a picturesque backdrop for family memories: stand at the ocean’s edge hand in hand with your toddler, jump over waves with your grandkids, ride waves with your teens. There’s plenty of room to throw a Frisbee, fly kites, and build sandcastles.

When the tide gets low and the beach grows wide, tidal pools form near the receding shoreline, their shallow depths home to shells and, often, shark’s teeth — often those of a bull, tiger, or sand shark. After all, Topsail Island, where Surf City is located, is one of the top spots for finding shark’s teeth in North Carolina. Occasionally, the ultimate prize — a giant megalodon tooth — surfaces.


Enter a Paddler’s Paradise

Part of the 3,000-mile Intracoastal Waterway, a series of natural inlets, bays, saltwater rivers, and man-made canals separates Surf City from the mainland. The calm waters of the Intracoastal allow boats to travel the length of the East Coast without facing the perils of the ocean; they also make great places to paddle.

Access the waterway from Soundside Park, where you can launch your kayak and stand-up paddle board. If you don’t have your own, you can rent equipment from one of the many outfitters in town. You’ll share the waters with motorboats, Jet Skis, and schools of fish, like mullet, that announce their presence with a splash.

“It’s an opportunity to get out in nature and do your own self-guided tour throughout our Intracoastal Waterway and marsh area,” says Jodi Shepard, Director of Surf City Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

Long stretches of marshland line either side of the Intracoastal. As you skim by, these shallow swaths of grass come to life. Up close, small fish flit about, herons and egrets silently stalk their next meal, and tiny crabs scuttle among the grasses.


People watch an outdoor movie at Soundside Park.

Unfurl your picnic blanket or prop up your lawn chairs at Soundside Park to catch the month’s movie screening under the stars. Photography courtesy of Town of Surf City

Play in the Parks

On select summertime Friday nights, locals and visitors gather at Soundside Park’s grassy field for its recurring Sip, Shop & Stroll series. Shop handmade crafts as the bands on stage sing refrains of familiar beach music. Families can order from food trucks beyond the playground, then take a seat at picnic tables overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. After eating, they let the kids loose to climb and slide on the pirate-themed playground.

Summer months also mean Movies in the Park. Arrive at Soundside Park early to enjoy local fare from food vendors, and stroll along the boardwalk paths that extend over scenic green marshes. Keep your eyes peeled for egrets, ducks, crabs, and oysters. When the sun gets low, lay out your picnic blanket or lawn chairs and take in the family-friendly flick under the night sky.

Nelva R. Albury Recreation Area, another favorite for families with little ones, is complete with covered picnic tables, a large playground, and located beside a beach access. Kenneth D. Batts Family Park also offers sheltered picnic tables and play equipment overlooking the sound, and there’s a long boardwalk that extends over marshland.


Man and child go fishing in Surf City.

All levels of anglers can grab their rod and reel and head out to catch fresh and saltwater fish. Photography courtesy of Town of Surf City

Cast a Line

“We can do spin fishing, fly fishing, trolling — all kinds of stuff here,” Captain Ray Brittain says, owner of a charter fishing service in Surf City for eight years. “With different seasons and different kinds of fish, there’s always something going on.”

Brittain, a native of nearby Jacksonville, has fished these waters his whole life. He explains that when fishing in sounds and waterways, you’re inshore, and while fishing into the ocean from the surf, a pier, or a boat, you’re offshore.

“Inshore, the big three are red drum, flounder, and trout,” he says. “And off the beach, you’ve got king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, bonito, black sea bass, mahi, tuna — the list goes on and on.”

Check out the fishing docks at Soundside and Kenneth D. Batts parks to fish inshore from land. Boat launches at Soundside Park also allow you to take your boat or fishing kayak into the Intracoastal. For surf fishing, head to one of the town’s public beach accesses. You can also head out with one of the area’s many charter services for both inshore and offshore fishing. The experienced guides will make sure you have all the gear you need for a worthwhile day on the water.

Some visitors are surprised to learn they can freshwater fish in Surf City, from two ADA accessible docks on the stocked pond behind Surf City Community Center on the mainland. Kids can duck into the nearby playground if they tire of waiting for a bite.


The ocean and the sound are visible from the top of the Surf City Bridge

The sweeping view of the ocean and sound from the peak of the Surf City Bridge is one of the town’s signature sights. Photography courtesy of Town of Surf City

Explore Surf City’s Trails

Family visits the pond at Surf City's Community Center

Keep your eyes peeled for fish, waterfowl, tiny crabs, and other wildlife in the water and marsh grass around the Community Center’s pond. Photography courtesy of Town of Surf City

Short walking trails traverse the grounds of Surf City Community Center, leading around a pond and past pine trees. When you stroll along the foot path, you’ll pass children swinging on the playground and dogs scampering around the dog park.

For a longer trek, start at the boardwalk from Soundside Park. After crossing over marshes and a wooden replica of the town’s old swing bridge, you can travel across the Surf City Bridge on its 1.2-mile, multi-use trail on foot or by bicycle. Below, you can see boats cruising through the waterway before disappearing under the 65-foot-tall bridge and the sound meandering away in both directions.

Town manager Kyle Breuer has fond memories of walking over the bridge. In addition to views from the bridge’s vantage point of the marsh and the ocean meeting the sky, the scent of the marshland stays with Breuer — a distinct mix of salt water and coastal environment. “If you’ve been gone for some time and you come back, you always recognize it,” he says.

If you time your walk over the bridge just right, you’ll catch the sunset emblazoning the sky with vibrant yellow, peach, and magenta streaks. For Batts, sunsets like these, shelling on the sandy beaches, and the close-knit community that infuses Surf City with its small-town family beach personality are part of home. “Every single day I am reminded of how wonderful it is that we live in such an amazing place,” she says.

Get to know this singular spot for yourself as it enters its 75th year. Whether you want to visit for a day trip or a week, pack up your crew, and see how Surf City has an outdoor experience or event to delight visitors of every age.

This story was published on Mar 20, 2024

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.