21 Expert Tips for Shelling in Florida

A hand holding an Atlantic Calico Scallop shell with a beach wave in the background.

An Atlantic Calico Scallop shell found while shelling in Florida.

Next time you’re shelling in Florida, remember these tips for the best experience!

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As someone who has been shelling in Florida for over 15 years, and even longer in other locations, I’ve come up with this list of expert tips to maximize your shelling experience and increase your chances of bringing home the best treasures. These tips are the things I keep in mind every time I go shelling in Florida, and it’s always a great time!

With beautiful white sand beaches, warm waters, and abundant marine life, shelling in Florida offers a unique and captivating experience unlike anywhere else I’ve been to. The seashore is adorned with an array of shells, each one more beautiful and intriguing than the last. When I’m wandering along the shores of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Naples Beach, or Marco Island, the thrill of finding the perfect shell never fails to captivate me.

Whether you live in Florida and are looking for a new hobby, or are visiting on a family vacation, Florida truly is a paradise for shell enthusiasts, offering endless opportunities to connect with nature and uncover hidden treasures from the ocean.

What is shelling?

Shelling, also known as beachcombing, is the activity of searching for seashells along the shoreline. It involves walking along beaches and collecting shells that have washed up from the ocean. Shelling enthusiasts often seek out a variety of shells, including those with unique shapes, colors, and patterns.

Why do people enjoy shelling?

Shelling can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby that connects people with the the magic of the shoreline. Searching for shells brings excitement, the thrill of discovery, an engaging way to stay active, enjoyment of the beauty of the coast, as well as an appreciation for the beauty of nature in the large variety of seashells that exist to be discovered.

By keeping these shelling tips in mind the next time you go shelling in Florida, you’ll increase your chances of finding the best seashells and having an enjoyable experience!

A large shell sitting in the sand along the shoreline.

An Atlantic Giant Cockle shell along the shoreline on Naples Beach.

Where to Go Shelling in Florida

1. Choose which beach you’d like to go shelling at.

There are so many beautiful beaches in Florida, each having different shell populations. By planning where to go shelling in advance you’ll maximize your chances of finding rare and beautiful shells.

The coast on the western side of Florida is the Gulf Coast, and the coast on the eastern side of Florida is the Atlantic Coast. The Gulf Coast, especially southwestern Florida, is especially known for having great locations for shelling. Some popular beaches for shelling in Florida on the Gulf Coast are Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Marco Island, Anna Maria Island, Naples Beach, and Fort Myers Beach, although there are many more beaches on the Gulf Coast with shells and you may even have better luck on one of the less populated beaches.

2. Look for a less crowded location on the beach to look for shells.

If you notice there are crowds of people are searching in a certain area, you may find you have better luck looking in an area away from everyone where you’ll have the chance to find shells that other people haven’t seen yet.

White, pink, purple, and orange shells and pieces of shells on the beach.

Shells on the beach from one of my trips to Sanibel Island.

When to Go Shelling in Florida

3. The best time of day to look for shells is in the morning.

Often the best time of day to go shelling is first thing in the morning so that you can be among the first to discover all of the shells that have washed ashore overnight. Since fewer people have had access to these shells, going shelling in the morning increases the likelihood of finding untouched treasures.

4. The best tide for looking for shells is low tide.

Shelling is considered best during low tide, because as the water recedes it reveals areas that are normally underwater. This can make it easier to access shells that have been washed up onto the shore. The lower water level also allows you to explore tidal pools where shells may accumulate.

5. Consider shelling during the days of a full moon or new moon.

The sun and moon have a gravitational pull that affects the tides. During a full moon and new moon, Earth, the sun, and the moon are in alignment, which causes extra-low tides and extra-high tides. This means different shells can be visible during low tide or washed ashore during high tide than you would see during the rest of the lunar month. 

6. The best weather to go shelling is the days after a storm.

When the seas have been rough it churns up different shells from the ocean floor and washes them ashore. Also, if there have been strong winds coming off of the water, this can help push waves and shells onto the beach, meaning you might find some unique treasures you wouldn’t otherwise see.

If you’re enjoying these tips for shelling in Florida, check out: 17 Fun Things to Do on a Solo Beach Day

The shoreline with aqua colored water and a few shells on the sand.

This photo is from the first time I went shelling on Captiva Island, back in 2010!

Shelling Preparation

7. Plan for how you’re going to carry your shells.

When you go shelling you’ll need a way to carry your shells. Imagine your disappointment and frustration if you were to go out shelling and find a lot of amazing shells but have no place to put them, having to turn around once your hands are full. You can avoid this by planning ahead and bringing a bag or a bucket to put your shells in. A mesh bag may be preferable so the water and sand can drain out as you walk, since your shells are likely to be wet and/or sandy.

8. Use sun protection and dress comfortably.

The Florida sun is strong and hot, and walking near the shoreline means it’s also reflecting back at you from the water. Keep yourself safe from sun damage and sunburns by wearing sunscreen, UPF sun-protective clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat. You’ll also want comfortable walking shoes and clothing that’s comfortable to bend over in repeatedly.

9. Pack water and snacks if you plan to be out for a while.

With the sun being so strong and the physical activity of walking along the beach, you can easily work up a thirst and hunger. If you’re planning to be out for a while you’ll be glad you brought water and a snack with you.

10. Know the local regulations for shelling before you go.

In Florida, there is no live shelling allowed. This means it’s illegal to collect shells that contain a live organism for recreational shelling purposes (and anyway, why would you want to harm a living creature for their shell when there are plenty of beautiful empty shells to be found?!).

There can also be regulations for which specific beaches allow shelling and which do not. For example, no shelling is allowed at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, or in Everglades National Park, or in portions of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Shelling may also be prohibited in state or federal parks, and national wildlife refuges, so be sure to check before you go.

While shelling in Florida or anywhere else, it’s imperative to avoid disturbing wildlife habitats and nesting areas while shelling, and to be mindful of any nesting birds or marine animals you encounter.

Looking into the a shallow area of water at the beach showing shells and a crab.

While searching for shells in shallow water, I spotted a crab walking along the ocean floor (middle left of photo).

How to Find Shells at the Beach

11. Begin by searching for shells along the shoreline. 

The shoreline is often where shells are first deposited by the waves, making it the perfect place to start your search. Shells can be found scattered across the sand or may even wash up at your feet with waves.

12. Another good spot to search for shells is near the high tide line.

You’ll know where the high tide line is because there is usually a line of debris left behind containing seaweed, driftwood, and some shells. This line of debris is called the wrack line. Search this area to see if any amazing shells got stuck there.

13. You can also find shells in shallow water.

When the water is relatively calm and clear, allowing visibility to the ocean floor, you can sometimes spot shells nestled among the sand or gently rolling with the tide.

14. Ensure that all of the shells you find are empty.

Inspect each shell closely to ensure it’s unoccupied. If you find any with creatures living inside, gently place them into the water. As mentioned earlier in #10, it’s against state regulations to take shells with any living organism in them.

15. Take your time while looking for shells.

Shelling is a leisurely activity and is all about patience. Walk slowly along the shoreline scanning the sand for shells, and don’t be afraid to spend time in one spot if you’re finding a lot of nice shells there. By taking your time you can really look around on the beach and make sure you don’t miss something great. You might even want to take the time to move around other shells or seaweed to see what’s underneath the surface. 

16. Put back any shells that you decide you don’t want.

It’s a good practice to only take home the shells you truly love and intend to use or display. At the start of your shelling adventure, you might pick up shells that seem nice at first, even if they’re partly broken or small. But as you search longer, you might find better versions of the same kind of shell to replace the ones you found earlier. Instead of taking all of them home and throwing away the broken or less interesting ones later, you can put back the ones you don’t need so they can remain part of the marine ecosystem.

If you’re enjoying these tips for shelling in Florida, check out: The Best Coconut Beauty Products That Will Remind You of Beach Vacations All Year Long

A variety of colorful shells of southwest Florida on a white background.

Some of the shells I’ve found in southwest Florida.

What to Do With Your Shells at Home

17. Clean your shells.

When you get home, you can clean your shells to remove any sand, seaweed, or debris. Start by rinsing the shells with clean, fresh water. You can use a gentle stream from a faucet, or immerse them in a bucket of warm water and mild dish soap and let them soak for 30 minutes. After soaking, if needed you can use a soft-bristled brush, such as a toothbrush or a paintbrush, to gently remove any debris that is still stuck. Be careful not to scrub too hard, especially if the shells are delicate. Then rinse them thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap residue. Allow the shells to air dry completely in a well-ventilated area.

18. Identify your shells.

It’s fun to learn the names of the shells you’ve collected. Pay attention to details such as size, shape, color, and markings, and compare your shells to reference photos and descriptions to determine their species. Not only will this help you build your knowledge of shells, but it will also enhance your enjoyment of the hobby and appreciate their unique characteristics.

19. Decide how to display or store your shells.

Now that you have beautiful shells you’ll need somewhere to display them. Some ideas are displaying them in a clear glass vase, a decorative bowl or dish, or on a bookshelf. You can also use them for crafts or decor projects.

20. Share your finds with others.

Shelling is a wonderful hobby to enjoy with others. Bring along a friend or relative, share your finds and enthusiasm with other shell enthusiasts, or consider participating in online shelling groups on social media or in local shelling events or clubs to connect with like-minded individuals.

The shoreline with a wave washing up over many shells in the sand.

Beachcombing along the shoreline of Marco Island. You’ll see the need to walk slowly because of how many shells there are to look over!

Plan Your Next Day Shelling in Florida

21. There are always more shells to be discovered on the beach.

Whether you found all of the amazing shells you were looking for or had an off day, there’s always a reason to go shelling again: no two shelling days are the same! With every tide comes new shells to be discovered and different beaches to explore.

Save This Guide to Shelling in Florida

Pin this graphic on Pinterest, or bookmark this page, so you can continue to refer back to these expert tips for shelling in Florida. And don’t forget to follow Stars & Anchor on Pinterest for more coastal lifestyle and beach inspiration.

A large shell sitting in the sand along the shoreline, with a text overlay that says, "21 expert tips for shelling in Florida, from Stars & Anchor .com."

21 Expert Tips for Shelling in Florida

Now you know all of my best tips for shelling in Florida! If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your shelling experience along Florida’s stunning coastline.

Some key things to keep in mind are to stay patient, explore different beach locations, and enjoy the beauty of nature as you search for the perfect shells to add to your collection. Remember to only take what you plan to enjoy, as shells are important habitats for beach creatures, and leaving some behind aids in the health of the coastal ecosystem.

I hope that these tips help your next day shelling in Florida to be successful and enjoyable. Happy shelling!

Have you ever been shelling in Florida? How did you find that shelling in Florida compares to other locations? Let us know in the comments.

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