Shelling on Sanibel Island
Travel & Leisure Ranked Sanibel Island the #1 location in their list of “Top 10 Best U.S Shelling Beaches” in 2016 and our beaches have earned it! Shell lovers from all over the globe make pilgrimages to Sanibel Island’s Gulf Coast to find their treasured shells. Because of the island’s unique orientation, the variety and volume of shells is unmatched anywhere else in the world. While most of Florida’s islands have a north-south orientation, Sanibel Island runs east and west, creating a long south-facing beach that slopes gently into the Gulf of Mexico allowing shells to roll gently onto the beach instead of rolling right past the island.
The island has become so popular that you'll find dedicated shellers searching the beaches with flashlights hours before sunrise, wanting to be the first to find whatever shells may have washed up overnight.
You can’t travel to Sanibel Island without experiencing the thrill of shelling! To make the most of your treasure hunt, follow our guide to shelling on Sanibel Island:
Where to Shell
Lighthouse Park, Gulfside City Park, Bowmans Beach, Blind Pass Beach, and Captiva Beach are all excellent shelling locations. All of the Gulf-side beaches are hot spots for shelling, but Blind Pass is by far the best! With hundreds of thousands of shells, the beaches are nearly inexhaustible sources of every type of shell; and are constantly being fed from the Gulf & Caribbean.
When to Shell
The best time to discover shells is at low tide when the seashells are more exposed, especially at low spring tides (at full and new moons). Searching after a storm will also reveal new and exciting shells from the gulf, so take advantage of rainy days by shelling the day after!
How to Shell
On your shelling excursion, bring a bucket or net bag, a scoop, and water shoes. Shuffle your feet in the water to expose partially hidden mollusks and to scare away fish.
Because seashells are important to the islands’ chain of life, the State of Florida has outlawed the collecting of live shells, sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins. Sheller’s are urged to limit even their empty-shell collection because taking a bucketful of shells away with you diminishes the beach for future visitors. Choose one precious shell and save the rest!
If you become a shelling enthusiast yourself, stop by The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to see exhibits illustrating shells from geographical, historical, scientific and artistic perspective. We hope you enjoy the new adventure of shelling and come back year after year to explore the new treasures that have washed ashore on Sanibel Island!