There is something so alluring about finding a beautiful shell on the beach. It is an indescribable feeling when you find the perfect one — no nicks or blemishes, no barnacles attached — a faultless specimen with just the right color and shape. Florida's beaches, specifically those on the Gulf coast, are known for their unique shelling experience. The beaches from Marco Island all the way up to Sanibel are especially great for finding these exotic ocean treasures.
However, finding the perfect specimen can still be challenging, but luckily there are other places to look besides the beach.
From shelling tours to shell museums and shell shops, Florida is teaming with ways to add the perfect conch to your collection. So, make shelling part of your next Florida adventure, you won't be disappointed. Here are the top four ways to find the perfect shell.
Head to the Beach
Shells can be found on just about any beach in Florida, but there are few that are more well known than others for their abundance of nautical sea finds. It's important to remember though that the state of Florida takes their oceans seriously. Shelling is generally allowed on all public beaches in the state as long as the shells have no living creatures in them. Many counties have strict regulations when it comes to collecting shells with live creatures so be sure to check the local regulations of whatever county you are in.
Of course, if the shell is empty, it's all yours!
Sanibel Island is the number one spot in Florida for shelling. The underwater shelf off the coast of the island gently catches shell deliveries from the current which overruns these beaches with countless amounts of seashells. More than 400 species of shells have been found on the island's beaches.
Low-tide, especially after a storm, is the best time to go searching.
Captiva Island, Sanibel's sister, is also a great place for shelling. Although its beaches aren't as swim-friendly, you are bound to find some amazing pieces. Both Sanibel and Captiva's east and west geography, rather than north and south like most islands, allows it to catch an abundant amount of shells from the Gulf of Mexico.
Cayo Costa is just north of Captiva, and accessible only by boat. It's another great beach for shelling. It's also one of Florida's most beautiful unspoiled coasts. The island is only nine miles long and loaded with heaps of sand dollars, whelks, and Scotch Bonnets. There is no lodging but camping overnight is allowed which helps keep the crowds away and makes this a great place to find untouched seashells. It's truly a slice of paradise.
Marco Island is just 15 miles south of Naples is , another great shelling spot. Tigertail Beach, located on the north side of the island, is a favorite of many for shelling and has restrooms, concession stand, kayak rentals, and kids playground, so it's a win-win.
Hop on a Shelling Tour:
Many shelling tours are available on the Gulf coast beaches where shelling is a known activity.
Most cruises will take visitors to one of the remote barrier islands off the coast so guests can get the true shelling experience, and enjoy a slice of paradise. Look for a tour with a knowledgeable guide that will point out all of the exotic sea life, unique seashells, and incredible land animals —yes, you will see them all.
Day Star Charter Shelling is located in Naples and offers a 3-hour private shelling and dolphin watching tour to the remote islands off of the coast of Naples. The tours are limited to six people in order to ensure for a stress-free time. Tours start at about $250 and go up depending on how long of an excursion you want.
Grey Pelican Charters in Captiva is run by Capt. Mike Fuery, whose famous charters have been featured in National Geographic, Southern Living, and Martha Stewart Living.
Capt. Fuery takes guests to the shallow bay waters of remote parts of Captiva and Cayo Costa Island. Private or split charters can be arranged.
Sweet Liberty offers affordable three-hour shelling excursion setting sail from Naples to Key Island's seven miles of remote beach. Prices start at about $42 a person and guests are welcome to swim and relax as well as search for sea shells.
Explore a Shell Museum
Aside from looking for shells, learning about them can be just as exciting. There are two main museums in Florida devoted to seashells, mollusks, and other tiny marine life. You can actually see specimens from around the world at both of these museums.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is located on Sanibel Island and is devoted to educating people about shells and the amazing animals that create them. Visitors of the museum can see shells from around the world, cameos carved from shells, explore how nature has created shells, and discover why seashells wash ashore. Open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.. Adults (18+) $15, youth (12-17) $9, children (5-11) $7 and children age five and under are admitted free.
The South Florida Museum is Florida's story from prehistoric to present. Exhibits includes fossil, bird and shell collections, and life-size dioramas, exhibits of Indian life, and Southwest Florida's maritime traditions. Located on Florida's west coast south of St. Petersburg in Bradenton. Open Tuesday thru Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. Admission for adults is $19; seniors (65 and older), $17; children (ages 4-12), $14; and children age 3 and younger are admitted free with a paying adult.
Shop at a Shell Shop
If you'd rather purchase your shells than spend a hot day at the beach combing the sand, then the place you need to be is one of these locations. Although, in Florida you can probably find seashell souvenirs pretty much anywhere. Most tourist stops across Florida or along the highway will undoubtedly have something seashell-ish.
Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers has the world's largest collection of rare sea shells, sponges, coral, fossils and sea life specimens. Truly a unique Florida shopping experience with gifts from every exotic shore as well as wildlife exhibits, aquariums, and alligators. Now, as much of an attraction as a shopping experience, you'll also find a "fun park" with bumper boats, paddle boats, a game room, and the Soaring Eagle Zipline adventure. Spend an hour or a day.
The Florida Shell Shop in Treasure Island, about 10 minutes from St. Pete Beach, has been around for more than five decades. The store is family owned and operated and sells all things seashells — from shell supplies, to shell-themed souvenirs, to exotic seashells — you'll find it all. The shop is opened 7 days a week from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.