Top Ten Shelling Beaches

The Art of Shelling: Shellcationing in Sanibel and Captiva

Best of Sanibel-Captiva

Sanibel Island    Sanibel is a unique barrier island with east-west orientation that differs from the typical north-south layout.

This east-west designation has helped Sanibel earn its reputation as one of the Shell Islands - prime spots along Florida’s coastline for gathering perfectly intact shells in every shape and size. 

Hit the beach with a bucket, shovel and small net and stroll the beach at low tide to peruse the ocean’s bounty of conch, cockles and scallop shells.

Bowman’s Beach is the quietest and most remote stretch of sand in Sanibel, while a historic lighthouse beckons visitors to take a stroll on the rustic boardwalk at Lighthouse Beach

Sanibel Island, Florida

Do the “Sanibel stoop” on this small island west of Fort Myers, Florida. That’s what locals call the bent-over position visitors take as they search for coquinas, scallops, olives, tulips, conchs and lightning whelks

Captiva Island  Along with Sanibel, Captiva Island shares the distinction of being 1 of Florida’s Shell Islands.

Captiva is generally the spot to find the larger of the intact shells. Turner Beach, though not good for swimming because of fast currents, is the perfect spot for a shell-hunting adventure.

Just be sure to leave any live shells on the beach or risk breaking the strict shelling laws. At sunset, head to Captiva Beach at the end of Captiva Drive to take in a spectacular sunset

Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Fl

Looking for seashells is a treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll find: a delicate angel wing, baby’s ear or even a Scotch bonnet (North Carolina's hard-to-find state shell).

Wave-washed shells turn up all over the world, although some of the best beaches for finding them are in the U.S.

Calvert Cliffs State Park, Maryland

Shells aren't the only things you can collect at this state park on the Chesapeake Bay.

Formed 10 to 20 million years ago, and once covered by water, these cliffs sometimes cave, iceberg-like, to spill shark teeth and other fossils onto the sandy beach.

Calvert Marine Museum

This is also a good spot to hunt for scallop, clam and oyster shells, and you may even come across arrowheads and bits of smooth beach glass.

Calvert Cliffs is a very popular park with limited admission, especially during the summer and around holidays, so plan ahead if you want to visit.

Note: Walking beneath the cliffs is prohibited because of the danger of landslides.

Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

Surfers come from across the globe to ride the waves in Jeffreys Bay, a small town on South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

Those waves also wash in a rich variety of shells in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Winter is a good time to hunt for them; you’re likely to find cowries and Indo Pacific species.

Save time to visit the Jeffreys Bay Shell Museum, which contains more than 600 shell species from around the world, including a rare paper nautilus and baby jam tart shell

Sanibel Island, Florida

Do the “Sanibel stoop” on this small island west of Fort Myers, Florida. That’s what locals call the bent-over position visitors take as they search for coquinas, scallops, olives, tulips, conchs and lightning whelks.

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel FL

Sanibel is shaped like a curve, so seashells are funneled onto its sugary-white beaches, making it one of the premier spots for collectors.

Go at low tide or after a storm, when the shoreline is sure to be studded with shells, but leave sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins alone; they’re protected by law.

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel FL

Cross the bridge at Turner Beach to continue on to Captiva Island, another great place for finding pastel-colored seashells.

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel FL

Cross the bridge at Turner Beach to continue on to Captiva Island, another great place for finding pastel-colored seashell

Shipwreck Beach, Lanai, Hawaii

Shipwreck Beach, on Hawaii’s Lanai Island, isn’t for swimmers.

The strong currents, shallow reefs and trade winds around the island are treacherous, and, as you’d guess from its name, this beach, also known as Kaiolohia, has been the site of many shipwrecks.

Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority

At least the currents and winds are great for beachcombers, and drive ashore such shells as violet snails, imperial cones and textile cones.

Other fun finds that might wash up include coconuts, bottles, sea glass, driftwood and even a rare Japanese glass float

Ocracoke Island, N.C.

Ocracoke Island, at the tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is home to over 400 bird species and other wildlife.

It’s also a beachcomber’s paradise, where queen helmet conchs, Scotch bonnets, clams (the big ones are called quahogs), olives, periwinkles, moon snail shells and sundials are found.

Look for three kinds of whelks here: lightning, knobbed and channeled whelks. Some visitors have found giant whelks that measure up to 16”.

Don’t skip over the tangles of brown sea grasses and seaweeds that often dot the shore; they may be hiding some good finds. Wade a couple of feet out into the water for more hidden gems.

Galveston Island, Texas

Stroll Galveston's Sea Shell Beach Pocket Park during the winter, or after a storm, when the waves deposit murex, marsh snail shells, shark's eyes, zebra periwinkles, clams and scallops and more.

The western end of this 32 mile-long island is usually the best for shelling.

The Bahamas

One of the best beaches in the Bahamas for shelling is Somerset Creek Beach, on Andros Island, although you’ll need to wear sandals or shoes to keep from cutting your feet.

The beach is a mile long, studded with coconut trees and paved with millions of tiny shells in all the colors of a Bahamian sunset.

Sand dollars can be found here, along with queen conchs, king, queen and emperor helmets.

The pink and white sands of Eleuthera Island, one of the “out islands,” stretches for over 100 miles.

Snorkel for shells or scoop them up by the handful; they’re abundant after a big storm or hurricane.

Shells to watch for include netted olives, tulips, conches, murex, West Indian top shells and moon snails.

Be a steward of the seashore. If you find a shell with a live animal in it, gently put it back where you found it.

Also, ask about restrictions on shelling at your destination, so you don’t exceed the limit even on empty shells.

Finally, if you’re traveling internationally, be sure your country of origin will allow you to bring back any shells you find.

Shelling Tips

#1 Shelling Tip- . An hour before and after low tide is a great way to start your shelling trip.

#2 Shelling Tip- . A full moon or new moon have the most extreme tides so this is a great time to shell

#3 Shelling Tip If it is possible, stay at a hotel or inn close to the beach. Your odds at getting more time shelling are much greater with easy access early in the morning and evenings with hassle free parking.

#4 Shelling Tip- . NorthWest winds are great for shelling more towards Captiva. SouthWest winds are great for the lighthouse end of Sanibel. Shelling after a storm with west winds is normally fantastic!

#5 Shelling Tip-. Here are my faves. My favorite beach in 2015, 2016 is Gulfside City Park on Sanibel – the beach is so wide there are many shell lines with treasures to discover.

The LIGHTHOUSE BEACH on the east end of Sanibel seems to have the mini shells.

I have found something interesting on this beach and around the pier or out on the tip about 90% of the time. My other favorite place is BLIND PASS. When it’s good? It’s the best, baby!

The jetty on the Captiva side will catch so many shells at times that it feels like Santa brought your favorite gifts for Christmas.

#6Shelling Tip- Cleaning your shells is a huge part of your shelling experience. 

#7 Shelling Tip


SMELL the salt in the air.

FEEL the sand on your toes.

LISTEN to Beach Sounds by Mother Nature.

LOOK at the seascapes and seashells.