The Best Beaches For Shells In Florida

Visitors to Florida (especially shell lovers) have an opportunity to walk along the shoreline and find some amazing shells. For some of Florida's white sandy beaches,the challenge of finding shells will be no sweat. But finding a special shell, in certain places, well let's just say you'll have to dig a little deeper.

Did you know that there are laws governing where and which shells you are allowed to remove?

Well, in any case there are. On top of that you'll want to know about the different kinds of shells and the best area to find them in. With this information you can increase your chances of a successful (and lawful:) sea shell search.

Luckily (yet to be determined) for you we've decided to bring you a list of the best beaches for shells in Florida.

Where Do Shells Come From

Most seashells come from mollusks, a large group of marine animals including clams, mussels, and oysters, which exude shells as a protective covering. Shells are excreted from the outer surface of the animal called the mantle and are made up of mostly calcium carbonate.

Number Of Shell Types

There are between 50,000 and 200,000, species of mollusks, depending on who's doing the counting. These figures are based on the number of species that have been described, and which of those the count accepts as valid, and the estimates of the number of undiscovered and undescribed species remaining on earth.

Types Common To Florida

While the exact species of shells found at each beach varies by location and even from day to day, certain types of shells are commonly found on Florida's beaches. Gastropod shells, those having a coiled or spiraled shapes, such as the the Lightning Whelk, Florida Fighting Conch and Banded Tulip are common finds in shallow water, notes the South Florida Sun Sentinel's website. Bivalves, shells made up of two parts connected by a hinge, like the Van Hyning’s Cockle, Calico Scallop, Ponderous Ark and the Basic Clam are more likely to be found along the shoreline.

Shell Jail!

While you won't actually go to jail (I'm assuming) for removing restricted shells, it is illegal.

Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission oversees recreational sea shell collecting in the state. The collection of most dead shells is permitted across the state. Living shell removal from the shoreline or water for personal use requires a recreational saltwater fishing license.

Collection of the Bahama Starfish and live Queen Conchs is prohibited across the state. Before collecting shells on any beach, collectors should review local laws. Several counties, state parks, national parks and wildlife refuges set additional requirements on the type of shells that can be harvested.

Collection Tips

The best time to find shells on Florida's beaches is low tide and right after a storm. A small rake or shovel isn't necessary, but it will make digging in the sand easier. Bring a bag or bucket for a safe place to store the shells. Should you seek living sea shells, then night time is probably when you'll have the most luck. Also at night you're likely to find species that are more rare.

Ok now we're ready to get started with the list of the best beaches for shells in Florida.

​Best Beaches For Shells In Florida

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is the state's top shelling location and considered the top shelling beach in the United States. Sanibel Island is world renowned for its shelling beaches

Sanibel Island has breathtaking white sand beaches, clear blue water and an abundance of colorful shells that have been dubbed "Treasures From the Sea."

Known across the globe for its shells, people from all over the world come to collect and admire the colorful "Treasures From the Sea". You will find young and old with buckets, bags and nets shuffling long, stooping over, this stance has come to be know as "The Sanibel Stoop"

It lies east to west as opposed to the usual north to south. This allows its beaches to be bombarded with shells from the Gulf of Mexico.

Plays host every March, to the Annual Sanibel Fair And Show. An event that showcases incredible shell collections and shell art, for shell enthusiast and admirers of beauty alike.

Sanibel’s Sister Island, Captiva Island’s beaches also show off a burbage of sea shells.

It is illegal to collect living shells on Sanibel Island, so please if you do find any you are advised to return it to the water.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

If you're in Florida (if you're reading this then you probably are, will be, or at least considering it) and want to learn about shells, then this is where you want to go!

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum resides on Sanibel Island. It's the only museum in the United States that is solely devoted to shells and the mollusks that make them.

Also The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. A natural history museum that exhibits beautiful shells from all around the world.

On staff are two Marine Biologists and a world-renowned malacologist, and that's just part of their roster. The shell museum offers a trove of knowledge, surprising facts, and rare insights into the lesser-known complexities of shells. Also covered are many cultural, historical and culinary facets of shells.

1984 was the beginning of the museum we know today, with a donation of $10,000 from a local shell collector Charlene McMurphy. 4 years after, they would become a nonprofit entity. A year after that “Bailey-Matthews” was added to the name honouring the parents (Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews) of the Bailey brothers who donated 8 acres of land. In 1995 the museum was opened to the public, and in 2014 National was added to the name.

You can take an Island beach walk with world-renowned marine biologist, Dr. José H. Leal on a Seaside Seashell Stroll. There's also the Live Tank Talks, here you'll be introduced to and made knowledgeable on some of the mollusks. Life-size models of a giant squid, nautilus, and octopus help explain the three main surviving branches of Cephalopods.

The museum has an exhibit on Ecphora, an extinct marine gastropod mollusk. Ecphora gardnerae is a species of fossil predatory sea snail. With a number of specimen, this exhibit shows treasures that once flourished 3 million to 30 million years ago.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a marvellous institution whose collections, exhibits, and staff are dedicated to the history, well being, and discovery of shells.

Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, which has 13 miles of seashore lined with 40-foot sea oat dappled dunes Amelia Island is a beach lover's haven. Shelling and hunting for sharks' teeth are time honored tradition.

Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach is a quaint village that was once a Victorian seaport. It's the perfect place to explore the local flavor and grab some lunch. It is also the only beach of the bunch that provides beach wheelchairs at a nearby recreation area for a $50 deposit (to be returned with wheelchair).

Seaside There are also 21 beach access point at the street ends between Main Beach and the south end of town. Though more known for its shark teeth, it's still a great location for shell hunting.

Honeymoon Island Beach

Caladesi and her sister, Honeymoon Island, were separated in a 1921 hurricane that created the aptly named Hurricane Pass. You'll find Honeymoon Island just over the Dunedin Causeway from the mainland.

Honeymoon Island Beach

Whether you're going shelling, relaxing in the sun or swimming you'll see loads of birds. Be warned though this Island even has rattlesnakes as you'll see from the posted notices along the walkway. They remind you that thick interior bush is home to rattlesnakes.

Honeymoon Island offers a dog beach that is a half mile hike off the main road. There tends to be a lot of rocks and it can get a bit crowded. However, if you're interested in privacy there are areas more secluded.

Honeymoon Island Beach caters to a high number of shell searchers and beach lovers alike.

Bonita Beach

Bonita Beach

Bonita Beach is perfect for shell collecting. You'll enjoy every moment you spend walking the beach, and swimming in the sparkling water. The area is teeming with wildlife in the air, on the beach and in the water.

Bonita Beach will have lots of activity. You and your kids will come home with bags of shells. There's even a really good chance you'll see some dolphins (I'm sold:).

While not as popular for shelling as Sanibel Island, Bonita Beach is still one of the best beaches for shells in Florida.

Marco Island

Marco Island

Located on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida, Marco Island is the largest of Florida's 10,000 islands. It has tropical white sand beaches and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Marco Island is alluring and oh so beautiful. A great place to go for not only shelling, but also for water sporting, restaurants and that's right dolphins.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a list of the best Florida beaches to find shells. While all of these places are filled with shells, every place is unique and has its own special qualities. You're bound to love your stay at whichever you decide to choose. Remember to enjoy yourself (and not break any laws) while out there shelling. These places have beautiful scenery and (as if dolphins aren't enough of a reason) breathtakingly gorgeous shells.

We hope our splash, rapidly leads to your solution!

Steven Conte

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