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Monday, October 10, 2016

Discovering Shells on Sanibel Island, Florida: A Guide to Where and How to Find Them

Sanibel Island is known as one of the best shelling places in the world. The island's sloping incline and East West positing make perfect conditions for sea treasures to wash upon the beaches without damage.

I remember preparing for my fist trip to Sanibel. Reading all of the articles and watching videos on shelling had me so excited! I envisioned walking out to the beach and picking up tons of beautiful large shells all day long.

Well, that’s not exactly how it works. There are beautiful shells and some large ones, but timing and luck play a big part in finding them. I have walked out on the best beach at prime time and not found a single shell. Not even a tiny one!

Shelling is serious business on Sanibel! Lol No matter what time of year you go, there will be a lot of people from all around the world there too…and they are looking for shells!

 But there are several things that will increase your chances of finding shells.

Best times for shelling:
Low tide in the morning
Be out there at the crack of dawn – you will see people with flashlights way before daylight (Yes, I have been one of those people! :) )
A day or two after a storm – this stirs things up and brings in a bigger variety of sea treasures.
Cooler months - November thru February

Best places for shelling:(Information on beaches)
Lighthouse Beach
Blind Pass
Turner Beach
Captiva Beach
Bowman Beach

Don’t be discouraged if you walk out to the beach and don’t see any shells. You just need to go to another beach. The last time I was there, I tried Turner Beach and Blind, not a single shell. Then I drove down to Bowman Beach, not a thing. I decided later to drive down to Lighthouse beach and there were so many shells it was crazy!

One day you may not find anything and the next day may be excellent. But no matter what you find, it’s a great day if you’re on the beautiful Island of Sanibel!

Have fun shelling and making great memories!

Below are two short video with some shells on Lighthouse Beach, Blind Pass beach, and Turner Beach.


  1. I can remember going to Sanibel Island in the late 1950's by crossing an old wooden bridge and seeing a mountain of shells on the beach. There were so many shells, it really impressed me at that young age of 9 or 10.

  2. Being a rookie, seeing all these great Shells and some items I'm not familiar with, do you wear gloves for fear of getting stung or touching fire coral, etc?

    1. I've been shelling on Sanibel for years and I've never once been stung by anything. Wearing gloves is going a bit overboard. If you go shelling on Sanibel, you'll mostly be sifting through piles of beach deposits where you're unlikely to find anything alive. The live ones I've found have been mostly clams and fighting conchs, and olives one year, which are all harmless. The only dangerous live snails are cones, but I've never found a live cone (I've barely found an empty one) and you're very unlikely to come across one.

  3. Thank you for the great post! We've just pinned it on our Pinterest board.

  4. Just came back from a glorious week on Palm Island Florida. We spent our beach combing hours finding 100 million year old fossilized shark teeth. Having been to Sanibel for many previous years we decided to try a different island. We were disappointed with the lack of any good shells, only finding small olives in the rolling surf. We took a day to drive to Sanibel to visit our favorite beaches and have dinner at our favorite restaurant. Again we were disappointed at Bowman and Turner Beaches. There were so many people searching for shells!
    We had a newbie shell lover on the trip with us, so we felt a trip to the Matthews Shell Museum would be fun. We got a chance to talk to a Marine Biologist who shared some alarming news. The common mollusks to Sanibel, the fighting conch, lightening whelk and the tulip have not been laying their eggs this year. Normally you see many of the spiral ropes of egg sacs on the high tide line this time of year. I had noticed while we were at Bowmans Beach the absence of them. The marine biologist shared with us that the ocean temperature has risen enough to affect the mollusks reproductive cycle. He also told us that this maybe a sign of the future for the shelling on Sanibel.

    1. Thank you for sharing your recent shelling experience! It is getting harder to find shells anywhere in Florida because of the changes in the ocean and all of the people out looking for them. We just got back from Florida last week. I found a spot with tons of shells on the east coast, but they were not as pretty as the ones on Sanibel. Thanks again for sharing!

  5. I’m so ready to pack up and go! This looks like such a fabulous time. I love that tips about Florida !!!

  6. I absolutely love Sanibel Island! I usually go to the Gulfside City Park Beach. The shells are everywhere, and I often see dolphins swimming just feet from the beach!

  7. After visiting and shelling Sanibel for many years, I found best larger shells are after a storm or riding a bike on west gulf dr to the residential areas. Most people shell the main beaches, but residents usually don’t bother. Parking is restricted but not for bikes. Also I realized there are different types of shells on different beaches. Good hunting!!

  8. I’m a 77 year old Florida girl. Been going to Sanibel/Captive since the 60s. I’ve never been stung by anything while searching for shells. Go and enjoy! Life is short. Go live your dream. ❤️

  9. Yes! Go and have a wonderful time searching and finding beautiful seashells.