14 Best Beaches in the U.S. for Shelling

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No two shells and no two beaches are the same. Shells that wash up on the shore one day are gone the next, just one of the allures of shelling. Not only is finding a treasure a thrill, but the scenery is breathtaking, providing a perfect activity to enjoy while immersed in nature. While the eastern and southern coasts of the U.S. tend to offer the best shelling, good destinations can be found throughout the country’s 95,471 miles of coastline that are worth planning a trip around.

*Note: You need to inspect each shell before dropping it into your bag, as it is illegal to take live shells from the beach.

Turner Beach - Sanibel Island, Florida
Sanibel Island

Turner Beach - Sanibel Island, Florida

Why Come Here: It is one of the best beaches in Florida for shelling.

Of all the places for shelling in the U.S., Sanibel Island may beat them all. There are over 250 different types of seashells from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean that can be found here, with Turner Beach often named the very best. Parking is limited, but you’ll rarely find crowds here, making it easier to uncover rare shells. The shell-laden currents bring in everything from tiny, perfect pastel coquinas to tulip shells, cockle shells, conch shells, and false angel wings. After shelling, head to a safe beach for swimming like nearby Tarpon Bay with the current a bit too strong here.

Shell Island - St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, Florida
Nautilus shell

Shell Island - St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, Florida

Why Come Here: It offers a bounty of shells and an impressive collection, and while shelling, you can watch dolphins that frequently leap from the surf.

Shell Island in St. Andrews State Park offers over a mile of unspoiled powder sugar-like sands and clear blue waters ideal for swimming, kayaking, and diving. There’s a ferry that offers a short ride to the 7-mile-long barrier island that separates St. Andrews Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, and if you arrive early, you’re likely to find some unique shells.

Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Why Come Here: Not only is it a gem for shell collectors, but for sea glass, and as a designated bird sanctuary, it’s ideal for birdwatchers too.

The powdery white sands on Dauphin Island are littered with beautiful seashells. You’ll have the best luck at scoring great finds right after a storm. While searching, enjoy the views that can include dolphins that like to chase schools of mullet in the shallow water while pelicans dive in for a feast and ospreys circle overhead. End the day with one of the world’s most stunning sunsets.

Folly Beach, South Carolina
Folly Beach

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Why Come Here: In addition to hundreds of different seashells, fossilized shark teeth can turn up and the beach.

One of the best beaches in South Carolina, the waters that edge Folly Beach in South Carolina are filled with over 700 different types of seashells, including coquinas, cockles, angel wings, slipper shells, and jingles. The occasional starfish, sand dollars, and sea urchins wash up too. It is also great for swimming, with lifeguards daily from Memorial Day weekend through mid-August. When you need a break from shelling, there are casual beachfront bars and eateries here.

Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches - Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Calico box crab and shells, South Padre Island Seashore, Texas

Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches - Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Why Come Here: The shoreline has over 60 miles of driveable beach that’s fun to explore, surf, swim, fish, build sandcastles, collect shells, and more.

Padre Island National Seashore spans 70 miles along the Gulf Coast as the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island. It’s prime shelling territory, especially at Little Shell Beach, located 10-15 miles down South Beach, and Big Shell Beach, about 10 miles further, where seashells can be found in very large concentrations. That includes quahogs, cockles, coquinas, and many gorgeous, smooth shells that are believed to come thanks to the convergence of the ocean currents that wash them up and even polish them in the process.

Point Beach - Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina
sunset over Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

Point Beach - Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Why Come Here: Ocracoke Island is known for its wild and unspoiled beaches.

You’ll see few others around, even during the peak of summer as it requires driving the length of the Outer Banks. If you want to swim and shell, the water is warmer than the northern beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore due to the influence of the nearby Gulf Stream. If you travel to Point Beach at the north end of Ocracoke Island, you’ll find everything from little butterfly-like coquinas to Scotch bonnets, cowry helmets, whelks, and sand dollars. Watch for shark teeth too. The morning after a big squall, particularly a nor’easter brings the most thrilling finds, and in the spring or fall, you’ll have the bounty of shells all to yourself.

Dungeness Beach - Cumberland Island, Georgia
Cumberland Island, Gerogia

Dungeness Beach - Cumberland Island, Georgia

Why Come Here: Not only is Cumberland Island renowned for its unspoiled beaches and shells, but its wild horses.

Accessed by ferry, there are miles of gorgeous white sands on Cumberland Island, with the very best shells washing ashore at Dungeness Beach, south of the ferry landing. It can easily be reached by renting a bike from the park rangers and includes treasures like sand dollars, coquinas, heart cockles, moon snails, ark shells, augers, olives, and shark teeth. The picturesque ruins of a Gilded Age mansion built by the Carnegie robber barons can be seen too.

Silver Strand State Beach - Coronado, California
Silver Strand State Beach

Silver Strand State Beach - Coronado, California

Why Come Here: The sand is soft and white, and the views are epic.

When visiting the San Diego area, the farther south you go, the better luck you’ll have with shells. Coronado’s Silver Strand State Beach, with San Diego Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, is the top spot. It was named for the silvery oyster shells covering the dunes but it’s also filled with other types of shells like scallops, limpets, and cockles, as well as sand dollars. Start searching there and then continue south to explore the 1.5 miles of beach to discover all sorts of seashells. On the bay side there are warm, calm waters and a place of picnicking with fire rings, BBQ pits, and tables.

Calvert Cliffs State Park - Lusby, Maryland
Calvert Cliffs State Park

Calvert Cliffs State Park - Lusby, Maryland

Why Come Here: The massive cliffs at Calvert Cliffs State Park reveal the remains of prehistoric species, which include rays, whales, sharks, and seabirds that were the size of small airplanes.

There are 24 miles of shoreline with a sandy beach along a peaceful stretch of Chesapeake Bay that attracts both shelling enthusiasts and avid fossil hunters. The cliffs are soft and sandy and sometimes calve, similar to a glacier, depositing fresh snail and shark teeth fossils on the beach. You might discover sea glass and even some ancient artifacts from human habitation, including arrowheads, along with scallop, oyster, clam, and snail shells.

Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii
Waikiki Beach and Honolulu's skyline

Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii

Why Come Here: Waikiki Beach is one of the world’s most famous beaches, with the two-mile stretch of white sands popular for sunbathing, swimming, searching, and shelling.

Hawaii’s beaches offer shells that are unlike anything you’ll find on the mainland. Hawaiians often use them in everyday life for everything from jewelry to fish hooks. The most frequently spotted on Waikiki Beach are cowrie shells, Adam’s bubbles, swollen bubbles, and paper bubbles, great for jewelry with their colorful pink, black, and white shells.

Maple Beach - Point Roberts, Washington
beach at Point Roberts, Washington

Maple Beach - Point Roberts, Washington

Why Come Here: The international border crossing means there is little development, providing an especially tranquil place for nature lovers.

Point Roberts is a unique unincorporated community located just south of the Vancouver, British Columbia metro area in Canada, but it’s in Washington State. It can only be accessed by driving across the Canadian land border, cruising in by private boat, or flying in by plane. Point Roberts is also unique for its wealth of marine life and crystal-clear water. Maple Beach is the best for shelling, ideal for marine invertebrates like moon snails, sea stars, and sand dollars. While you’re here, Monument and Lighthouse parks provide the perfect place for spotting the Pacific Northwest’s famous orcas.

Crescent Beach - Shelter Island, New York
Shelter Island Beach, New York

Crescent Beach - Shelter Island, New York

Why Come Here: It’s a great destination for swimming, windsurfing, sunset watching, and shelling.

Located between the North and South Forks of Long Island, Shelter Island offers a tranquil escape from the crowds with 25 miles of coastline and a half-dozen beaches. Crescent Beach is considered one of the best in the tri-state area for shelling, with Atlantic Bay scallops, arks, moon shells, a variety of whelks, slipper shells, and more. Be sure to stick around to watch the sun go down with some of the most glorious sunsets enjoyed here.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Why Come Here: Cannon Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast, famous for Haystack Rock.

Cannon Beach is the name of the town and the two-mile stretch of sand between downtown and Tolovana Park, with Haystack Rock rising 235 feet at its heart. At low tide, it’s one of the best for gathering sand dollars, often with dozens of them strewn about. From late March through June and late November through January, it’s a great place to watch for migrating gray whales. Puffin sights are enjoyed at Haystack Rock between April and early July.

Stinson Beach, California
Stinson Beach, California

Stinson Beach, California

Why Come Here: There are three miles of beautiful sands, and great surfing, windsurfing, and boogie boarding can be enjoyed too.

Located about 24 miles north of San Francisco, the north end of Stinson Beach around Bolinas Lagoon is great for sea lion watching and shell collecting as one of the rare places on the west coast for limpet shells. If you come at low tide, you might be able to gather up quite a few sand dollars too. At the south end of the beach, there are tide pools with colorful sea anemones, starfish, and hermit crabs.

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