I have lived in Florida and have loved everything about it for over 40 years—a Floridian in my heart.
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 and 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.
Western Florida Seashells
The Kind of Shells You Can Find on the Western Side of Florida
What kind of shells can you expect to find on the western coast of Florida?
- Fighting Conch Shells: These are commonly found on Florida beaches. Harvesting these shells is now illegal throughout the state.
- Junonia Shells: These shells are prized by shell collectors for their beauty and rarity.
- Lightning Welk Shells: These beauties grow up to 16 inches long
- Cockle Shells: This is a common Florida shell, but can be rare in other parts of the world.
- Tulip Banded Shell: These are lovely shells with intricate form and patterns.
- Sand Dollars: Delicate beautiful round shells. They have a unique pattern.
- Olive Shells: Shaped like an olive, these shells come in a variety of colors. They rarely grow beyond 3 inches long.
- Murek Shells: These are one of the prettiest shells on the beach. It features a pink interior. There are spikes all the way down the shell to a long tail.
- Coquinas Shells: These shells are about the size of a dime. They come in all kinds of patterns. No two are alike. Look for stripes, solids, and even plaids.
- Turkey Wing Shells: They look like a bird's wing stretched out. They have a brown pattern about 2 inches long.
- Spotted Slipper Shell: When you flip them over, they look like a boat deck. So, they are often called a "boat Shell."
Florida Shell Guides
- Florida Shell Guide | 2FLA Florida's Vacation and Travel Guide
Illustrations of Florida shells
Treasure on the Florida West Coast
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 its 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.
Every March, The annual Shell Fair, and the show is held. Folks gather to compare and see collections every year.
Some of the best places on Sanibel Island that are considered primo shelling locations include :
- Bowman's Beach-Western end
- Blind Pass Beach-The inlet between Sanibel and Captiva Island
- Lighthouse Beach-Near the Sanibel lighthouse
Types Of Shells You Can Find At Sanibel/Captiva
There are so many different types of shells at both Sanibel and Captiva. There are Conch, junovia, lightning welks, cockles, tulip shells. sand dollars and more.
Anclote Key State Park
This state park includes three islands. Three Rooker Bar, Anclote Key, and North Sand Bar are all included in this state preserve. These islands are not inhabited and you have to use a boat to get there. You may very well have one of these special shelling locations all to yourself.
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.
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 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.
You will need a motor boat to get to this location. But the trip is well worth the effort. You can catch a ferry from Fort Desoto if you do not have access to a boat. There is not a lot of foot traffic, so you will be able to walk the beaches and find treasures,
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 8 am to dusk and the cost is $8 for a car with more than one person.
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.
This is one of the shelling locations that you can access by car. While this is a very popular place in peak season, you can still find out of the way places to do some serious collection.
Shell Key can be accessed by kayaks that can be rented. It is a another barrier island that has some opportunities for exploration and shelling.
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 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.
Shelling Cruises on Marco Island
- Marco Island Shelling and Dolphin Boat Tours » Sand Dollar Shelling
Sand Dollar Shelling offers Naples and Marco Island shelling and dolphin boat tours. We offer one of the best things to do on Marco Island.
Ten Thousand Islands
These are a group of small islands just off Marco Island. They are known for a wide variety of shells that are available. It is difficult to navigate these islands. So your best bet would be to take a shelling tour.
Tips for Shelling Anywhere
Want to better your odds at finding the best shell treasures? Here are some of my favorite ideas!
- 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
- 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).
- 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).
- Look at where the debris and high tide marks are. Often within the material like seaweed, ect, you will find the best treasures.
- 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.
- Always remember to have comfortable shoes. Heavily shelled beaches can cause you to get cuts on your feet.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
You Can Create a Shell-Covered Flower Pot
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 !
More Shelling Resources
- Seashell Identification | Shell ID | Identify Sanibel Shell | i Love Shelling
Identify seashells from beaches of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, west coast of Florida, Gulf coast, Lee County and more. Guide to shells for best shelling
- Recreational Seashell Collecting
Laws and regulations regarding sea shell collecting in Florida
- Shelling & Sightseeing - Sanibel Island - Captiva Island
List of Shelling & Sightseeing businesses in Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce
Questions & Answers
Question: What's the best way to find unbroken sand dollar shells?
Answer: 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
Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on April 04, 2015:
You8 are welcome to visit us anytime ! Our beaches are still great. Though I tend to stay away during Spring Break
Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on April 03, 2015:
Thanks for your encouragement. Visit us anytime. You are always welcome
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 03, 2015:
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 from Ruskin Florida on March 28, 2015:
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".