Best Shelling Locations in Florida

Updated on July 3, 2018

Florida Fighting Conch

Shelling in Florida: Where to Go

Beyond Disney World, Universal Studios and all the other popular vacation destinations, Florida encompasses a world of outstanding beaches that beckon you to enjoy a quiet day with nature to relax and soak in the sun. There are so many beaches that will make you yearn to stay in the sunshine state. As a Floridian, I love them all. Additionally, some of these gems have some of the best gifts that you can take home, and best of all they are free. I am talking about one of my personal passions: Florida seashells.

There are so many beaches where you can find shells that will help you enjoy your memories long after you head back home. Shell collecting is a fun an interesting hobby. You don't have to invest a lot of money into it (beyond a few small things), and the rewards of this hobby are oh so sweet.

Remember, that you may only take the shells of animals that are deceased! You should never harvest a live animal for the shell.

Always Obey Shelling Laws

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission governs shell collecting. While collecting dead shells is permitted, you must have a recreational saltwater fishing license to harvest any shells with a live animal still in it. Collection of the Queen Conch and the Bahama Starfish is always prohibited.

One o the best part of collecting Florida sea shells is enjoying the magnificent sunsets
One o the best part of collecting Florida sea shells is enjoying the magnificent sunsets

Sanibel Island

Located near Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is considered one of the finest shelling beaches in North America, Sanibel Island has long been popular with those who enjoy nature at it's best. Nestled on the gulf coast of Florida, it has an underwater shelf that is perfect for shells to wash along the shores. All of the Gulf-side shelling beaches from the Lighthouse to North Captiva are excellent places to shell.

Panama City Beach

There is also some great shelling at the panhandle at places such as the aptly named Shell Island off of Panama City Beach. Access the island with one of the many shuttles or tour boats for about $20 a person.

Caladesi State Park and Island

Located in the Tampa Bay area, this state park can only be reached by boat. However, it is well worth the trip. You can use a private boat or take a local ferry. The area is only open from 8am till dusk. There are beaches, a concession area, picnic pavilions and walking trails. Caledesi Park is not inhabited except for a few overnighters.

Captiva Island

Just like Sanibel Island, is virtually made out of shells. The beach stretches 5 miles to the northern tip of Captiva Island at Redfish Pass. This is a white sand beach with clear blue water located on the gulf side of Florida. Once part of Sanibel Beach, it was severed in a hurricane in 1926.

Captiva Island/Sanibel, Florida

Cedar Key

Cedar Key is actually a group of Islands near the mainland of Florida. This beach is especially great at low tide where tidal pools hold great treasures. You need a boat to get there too, but the trip is worth it.

Honeymoon Island

Another beach near Tampa for shelling is Honeymoon Island. Here you and your kids can hunt for sand dollars and other interesting shells. The clear waters on the Gulf Coast make it possible to look for shells not just on the beach, but within the first few feet of where the water meets the beach as well.

The Honeymoon Island State Park on Honeymoon Island offers fishing, snorkeling, a picnic area, and a concession stand, as well as shelling. The hours are 8am to dusk and the cost is $8 for a car with more than one person.

Source

Longboat Key

The beaches at Longboat Key are not as populated, so shells are plentiful. Sand dollars are also more common. Two prime locations are Quick Point Nature Preserve at the southern end of the island and Beer Can Island. The preserve entrance is near the Chart House restaurant and continues under the bridge and along Sarasota Bay.

Jupiter Island

Located north of West Palm Beach, Jupiter Island is on the Atlantic side of Florida. Coral Cove State Park boasts of over 200 different types of shells as being found.

Marco Island

Marco Island is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Florida. Marco Island and the surrounding islands benefit from the offshore currents. There are many opportunities to take shelling cruises to the offshore islands. You can enjoy both the trip and the shelling adventure.

Have you ever seen a seashell car?
Have you ever seen a seashell car? | Source

Tips for Shelling Anywhere

Want to better your odds at finding the best shell treasures? Here are some of my favorite ideas!

  1. Check the tides times in the area you are visiting. The best times to collect shells are the hours just before and after the low tides
  2. A bad storm shouldn't stop you. I have found some really good shells right after a storm (don't go out during a storm or when a storm in eminent-after all, we are the lightening capital of the world).
  3. Winter is a great time to shell. The choppy water and less crowds make for better shelling (and the hotel rates can be better in off season).
  4. Look at where the debris and high tide marks are. Often within the material like seaweed, ect, you will find the best treasures.
  5. Get out before the crowds hog the beach. You will find a lot more early in the morning. I love getting out while the seabirds are feeding and I have the beach almost all to myself.
  6. Always remember to have comfortable shoes. Heavily shelled beaches can cause you to get cuts on your feet.
  7. Suntan lotion is a necessity! You can burn easily in the sun. Make sure to reapply frequently. If you are going into the water, make sure to wear waterproof suntan lotion. Don't forget the tops of your feet, it's easy to get burned as you walk.
  8. Mesh bags are great for shelling! But you should have a plastic bag to carry the smaller shells. The smaller ones will go through the mesh, for sure.
  9. Bring a bag or a bucket to carry your shells. I like the woven fruit bags like you get on onions or oranges. They drain the water. Carry a shovel so that you can dig for shells.
  10. Get into the water to find great shells. You will be able to see in the clear water of our beaches, so watch for special treasures in the water.
  11. If you are going to be out for a long period of time, make sure to bring a snack and some water. You will not find a great many places to find water or food along many beaches.

Have You Ever Gone Shelling In Florida?

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Tips for Shelling in Florida

There are just a few things to remember about shelling in Florida, specifically:

  • Always wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses when you are our shelling, even when it's cloudy. The sun in Florida can burn you quickly, so take precautions.
  • Don't take a shell with a live animal in it. There are so many shells for you to gather here, please leave animals in their homes. It's illegal to take anything live in Florida.
  • Know the law in the area where you are shelling. Some areas have restrictions on the amount you can take. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse.

When Is the Best Time to Shell in Florida?

Wow! That is the one question that everyone asks. Every minute of the day is the perfect time to get on the beach and find some special treasures! It is like a treasure hunt. On any given day, you never know what treasures you will find.

It is true that when the wind comes from the west, especially after a storm, you will find more people on the beach looking for whatever has been brought in.

Most people feel the best time to go shelling is one hour before low tide to one hour after the low tide

One tip is to check the tides in the location where you are planning to shell. In low tide, you have more access to the inlets and sand bars. But remember, tides can come in quickly. You don't want to get caught when a strong tide is coming in and you can't get to shore.

How To Clean Shells

Wash as much sand as you can off first. Soak the shells for several hours in a 50/50 bleach and water solution. You can use a toothbrush to clean off any residue on your shells. Remember to wear rubber gloves in the bleach water.

If you want the shells to shine, wipe them off with mineral or baby lotion. It's just that simple.

Larger conch shells should be soaked overnight.

Some Shells Have Round Holes

If you find a shell with a small very even round hole, these are perfect for all kinds of shell necklaces. The perfect little round hole is caused by clams who have invaded the shellfish in the cycle of life

I base painted a wooden tissue box. Then glued on some netting. Added my favorite shells to create something very original
I base painted a wooden tissue box. Then glued on some netting. Added my favorite shells to create something very original

What Can You Do With The Shells That You Have Collected?

The internet is ripe with all kinds of shell crafts. You can make all kinds of things with your shells.

I like to display them in a jar with the name of where I collected them. These look nice arranged on a bookcase.

I also like to use them to fill a lamp. Lamps are sold with a glass container attached that you can fill with shells.

You can use them on top of plants as decor around the base of them.

You can make Christmas ornaments with them.

The ideas are endless !

I filled this lamp with shells for the nautical theme in my living room
I filled this lamp with shells for the nautical theme in my living room

Questions & Answers

  • What's the best way to find unbroken sand dollar shells?

    Sand dollars are usually found at the bottom of the ocean. The ones that you find on the shore are washed up. Basically, they are the skeletons of the animal. Other than going into the water, they are not easily found. However, you have to be willing to get into the sand with your toes a bit. The best time to find them is right after a storm, or as the tides go in and out. They are one of the most delicate shells of all, and are easily broken. Check the tide charts, Get into the water, and dig a bit.

© 2015 Linda F Correa

Share Your Florida Shelling Experiences

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    • linfcor profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda F Correa 

      3 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

      You8 are welcome to visit us anytime ! Our beaches are still great. Though I tend to stay away during Spring Break

    • linfcor profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda F Correa 

      3 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

      Thanks for your encouragement. Visit us anytime. You are always welcome

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      Great information. We look forward to beach vacations every year and sometimes do make it make it to Florida. Now we know where to focus our efforts! Voted up and more!

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 

      3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      We just got back from camping near Fort Myers and naturally, we had to go to the beaches at Sanibel and Captiva.

      Our timing was a little off as we were at the beaches each day as the tide was ebbing but not anywhere near low tide.

      It was great watching people out in the surf and picking up some really great Conch Shells.

      We picked up a few nice shells as we waded around but nothing notable. What we do is place them in glass vases surrounding a candle as our "special memories".

      Good article.

      DON

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