Like tiny washed up treasures, the colorful seashells that line many of Florida’s beaches can be discovered on a peaceful day of beachcombing. No two beaches offer the same shells, nor does one beach offer the same selection from day to day, but the rewards of this treasure hunting process reveal a collection of unblemished beauties. From world-renown spots to lesser-known destinations, here are the best beaches for shelling in Florida.
Cover image: Sanibal Island, Florida. Photo by Anne McKinnell
*Note: You need to inspect each shell before dropping into your bag, as it is illegal to take live shells from the beach.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Known as the “Shelling Capital of the World”, Sanibel is by far the most popular destination in Florida for shelling. Its unique barrier island terrain allows shells to be washed up ashore throughout the year, where shell lovers do the “Sanibel Stoop” and discover pastel coquinas, junonia and lightning whelks. Head to Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel or take a trip to nearby Cayo Costa State Park on Captiva Island.
The sugar-white beaches on Marco Island reveal an array of treasures, from lion’s paws to moon shells, coquinas, clams and cockles, which are just some of the 400 shells species that have been found in the area. Make a stop at unspoiled Tigertail Beach on the north side of the island, where it’s possible to collect a vast array of beautiful, exotic shells during your excursion.
Caladesi & Honeymoon Islands
A combination of pristine beach and pine forest, the beaches on Honeymoon Island offer a unique landscape. Its crystal clear waters allow for opportunities to look for sand dollars and other interesting shells along the beach and within the first few feet of where the water meets the beach. You can also visit nearby Caladesi Island State Park to stroll the protected beach area and look for shells.
Anna Maria Island
Shelling is a favorite pastime for both locals and visitors alike near Anna Maria Island. Sitting on the southern edge of the island is Coquina Beach, where soft white sand and clear waters offer plenty of shelling opportunities. Take the ferry to Egmont Key, where you can spend a quiet afternoon scouring through piles of shells that have washed up to the shoreline.
Barefoot Beach, Naples
Barefoot Beach in Naples is on many shell collectors radar, as this 342-acre park makes for a fabulous day of treasure hunting. Look for corals, alphabet cone, arks, bonnets, bubbles, Conches and paws, from the tiny Kitten’s Paw to the giant Lion’s Paw. This area is quiet and secluded, and its long stretch of beach can be enjoyed with a day of swimming, camping, canoeing and kayaking.
A great excursion that the kids will enjoy, go beachcombing along Venice Beach to discover prehistoric shark teeth. Nicknamed the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World”, this beach offers unique souvenirs that date back millions of years. Your best bet is to head to the rock outcrops along the 177-acre Caspersen Park Beach on the south side of the city.
Fort Myers Beach
A place to go beachcombing in solitude, Fort Myers Beach offers a landscape of frolicking dolphins in the water and an array of birds soaring over your head. Enjoy a day of soaking up the sunshine and look for shells away from the crowds, where you’ll discover Florida spiny jewel box, tulip banded shells, Florida cones, conches and more. Afterwards, you can go birdwatching, kayaking or canoeing.
Navarre Beach, Pensacola
A sea glass beach in Santa Rosa County, Navarre Beach in Pensacola is a romantic escape from the hustle and bustle of more popular beach areas. You’ll find a collection of colorful shells in addition to beautiful glass, as the winds and sand dunes here that constantly shift make it an ideal place to discover something new every day, from turkey wing shells to cockle shells, olive shells and jingle shells.
Shell Island, Panama City Beach
You can take a shuttle or tour boat from Panama City to the aptly named Shell Island, a tiny oasis that is perfect for when you want to get away from it all. A pristine beach area that is unspoiled, its underdevelopment means you’ll find plenty of seashells to collect in addition to enjoying a day of swimming, snorkeling and beachcombing. Look for conch shells, junonia shells, tulip shells and spotted slipper shells.
You’ll find an abundance of shells on Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, including sand dollars, junonia shells, and tulip banded shells. Plan to shell around the low phase of the tide, and search in the “shell line” where the highest waves stop as they deposit groups of shells. You can easily spend a quiet afternoon strolling for treasures and swimming in the calm waters.
Shelling on Hutchinson Island is a pleasant activity, as you won’t find the tourist crowds here. With natural and artificial reefs, the shelling and sea glass hunting opportunities are endless here. Visit during low tide to peruse the shells that have washed up ashore, where you’ll find sand dollars and small pieces of smooth and beautifully frosted green and white colored glass.
Fort De Soto Beach, Tierra Verde
Offering some of the best shelling in the Tampa region, Fort De Soto Beach is home to a huge variety of shells. The park is made up of five islands, with the North Beach the most popular area for shelling, swimming and picnics. Search for sand dollar shells, lightning whelk shells and jingle shells during the day and sit back and enjoy the stunning sunset views in the evening.