Going to the beach for vacation is a worldwide tradition, and everyone has a favorite activity to do at the beach. Some of us like to splash in the waves, while others prefer to relax and sunbathe or boost the adrenaline level with exciting water sports. But another fun way to spend a day at the beach is collecting shells.
Shell collectors are sometimes referred to as beachcombers and are on a quest for natural beauty, uniqueness, and purity. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt too! The weather and water conditions in some places increase the number of shells found on the beaches, and these destinations have become favorite ones of collectors. In fact, some beaches are almost entirely made up of seashells that have washed up onto the shore instead of the sand and pebbles you might expect. To help guide your beachcombing endeavors, these are some of the best beaches around the world for finding shells.
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Sanibel Island, Florida
There are lots of beaches in Florida for shelling, but perhaps none with as many shells as Sanibel Island. Known as the Shell Capital of the World, this barrier island west of Fort Myers runs from east to west and attracts many shells to wash up on its shores. Lots of people visit this island to collect shells, making tourism a major source of income for the island’s economy. Here you may be able to find scallops, conchs, tulips, and coquinas. The best time to find shells is after a storm or at low tide. Regardless of whether you want to take shells back home with you or not, check out the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to see some of the most beautiful shells ever collected here on display. This is an excellent getaway destination because there’s moderate development on the island with restaurants and accommodations, but still plenty of nature and wildlife too.
While you can find some shells on the west coast of the U.S., this area isn’t typically regarded as a top shelling destination. However, Bandon, Oregon defies this stereotype and has lots of great shell collecting opportunities. Bandon is a nice seaside town that has some protected areas around the mouth of the Coquille River. This helps shells accumulate along the shore, as well as winter storms that bring them in too.
Barricane Beach - Devon, England
The United Kingdom has a nice shelling beach in Devon near Woolacombe. Barricane Beach has slate rocks that are millions of years old and have been studied because of the fossils found here. You may be able to find cowries and exotic shells here that have been brought in from the Caribbean Sea by the Gulf Stream. Rockpool ramble events are popular at this beach, as well as surfing and simply lounging on the beach. You can reach this beach via parking lots that are about a five-minute walk away. Keep in mind that there aren’t any lifeguards here and that the nearest restrooms are at the Woolacombe car park.
Galveston Island, Texas
Some people might be surprised to see a Texas city on a list of top shelling destinations, but the west end of Galveston Island is a great place to look for sea treasures. One of the best places to look for shells in the area is Sea Shell Beach Pocket Park. Shells you can find here include murex, zebra periwinkles, scallops, and clams. The entire island is about 32 miles long, but the west end tends to be the best for beachcombing. Although the temperatures here are usually mild, beachcombers especially like to come out when cold fronts move in from the north and the winds push the Gulf Coast waters back from the shore. This is when most shells are exposed in the sand and are easiest to find, especially during the winter months.
Shell Beach - Shark Bay, Western Australia
Located in the Shark Bay area of Western Australia, Shell Beach is as white as snow but made up of millions of shells. The entire beach is covered in shells, and some say that the shells here go down 10 meters deep. These are coquina bivalve shells that are thought to have been deposited at least 4,000 years ago. The regional climate and the high salinity of the seawater here have a lot to do with the abundance of shells on this beach. You’ll also find shells extending out from the shoreline into the sea, and forming large chunks of shells that have fused themselves together.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
There are some amazing islands off the coast of Georgia, including Cumberland Island, which spans about 17 miles of beach along the Atlantic Ocean. This is a great place to look for shells and sand dollars. You can only reach the island by ferry, and there is no bridge access for cars. This helps to control the crowds on the island and the wildlife thriving. Another perk of looking for shells here is that you may even find some shark teeth in the marshy areas on the west side of the island.
Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Lots of shells wash up on the shores of South Africa, and the best place to see them is at Jeffreys Bay. This town is situated along the Eastern Cape and is home to the Jeffreys Bay Shell Museum, which features hundreds of shell species. Shell enthusiasts from around the world flock here to see this museum because it has one of the most expansive shells collections anywhere. Winter is also a good time to hunt for shells, especially to find the Indo Pacific species and cowries. While you’re here, you can also spend time surfing the waves and eating delicious seafood.
Calvert Cliffs State Park, Maryland
Maryland is best known for its crab, but Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland is also a great place to find shells. The cliffs here date back millions of years, and you can even find fossils and shark teeth on the beach. For shelling, keep an eye out for oyster, clam, and scallop shells. This is a very popular beach area that gets busy in the summertime. Visitors should know that the cliffs are prone to landslides, which is why hiking beneath them is not allowed.
Shipwreck Beach - Lanai, Hawaii
Another excellent place to find shells is Shipwreck Beach, which is on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. The beach also goes by the name, Kaiolohia. This island area is known for its shallow reefs, trade winds, and strong currents. This has caused many ships to wreck here, and it’s definitely not a good place to go swimming either. But while the conditions are a bit treacherous, they also are perfect for pushing seashells to the shore. Here you may find imperial and textile cones and violet snails, as well as driftwood, seaglass, and even coconuts washing up to shore.
Agios Dimitrios, Greece
Head south of Athens, Greece to reach the long sandy beach of Agios Dimitrios. This beach is a wonderful place to find snails like the Ocinebrina Edwardsii and Clanculus Corallinus species.
Shell Beach, Saint Barthelemy
Shells are easy to find on St. Barts if you spend a day at Shell Beach, which is also known as the Grand Galet. This is a popular beach that is frequented by cruise ship travelers and known for its abundance of shells and conchs washed up onshore.
Eleuthera Island, Bahamas
The Bahamas are no stranger to hurricanes, and extreme weather is what often brings shells to the shore of Eleuthera Island. This is also a prime snorkeling spot, so you can find some amazing shells by snorkeling near the shoreline. Unlike many of the other islands in the Bahamas, this one is rustic and wild. Geographically, it’s about 50 miles east of Nassau. Another great Bahamas destination for finding shells is Somerset Creek Beach on Andros Island.