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Best Beaches for Shelling in the U.S., From California to Florida

Wanderlust has been traveling for work, pleasure, and just for travel’s sake to 49 countries and 33 states in the U.S.

These are the best beaches in the United States for shelling.

These are the best beaches in the United States for shelling.

Beaches for Shelling Across the U.S.

Even though it has been proven that it is not actually the ocean you’re hearing in a seashell, I personally want to believe otherwise. I love seashells. I am not a collector, but I have a lot of them from around the world. Shells are widely collected, traded, and appreciated for their beauty and rarity, and many artists and designers even use shells in their art.

A lot of people enjoy walking along the beach, picking up seashells and other treasures that the sea has so generously brought to the coast. And it is so exciting to find the perfect shell with no flaws and blemishes—one that's just the right size and shape.

Even though perfect seashells are hard to find, knowing the right beaches for searching can increase the probability of finding them. The United States has thousands of miles of shorelines covered with these beautiful ocean treasures. We are lucky to have a large number of shelling beaches to choose from, and these are some of the best.

A collection of seashells collected from Waikiki Beach in Oahu, Hawaii.

A collection of seashells collected from Waikiki Beach in Oahu, Hawaii.

Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Waikiki (Hawaiian for ‘Sprouting Water’) Beach is one of the most famous beaches not only in Hawaii but in the world. The two-mile stretch of white sand coast is excellent for swimming, surfing, sunbathing, and of course, for searching for Hawaiian treasures—seashells. Hawaiian shells are difficult to compare to ones from any other place in the United States; after all, Hawaii is an exotic tropical destination.

And like most of the beaches on tropical islands, Hawaiian beaches are full of glamorous and colorful shells. Native Hawaiians widely use seashells for everyday life. Not only for jewelry or design but also as fish hooks and even as horns to herald ceremonies. Waikiki sees thousands of snorkelers, scuba divers, and beachgoers every day, each one looking for that souvenir seashell to bring back home.

The easiest way to find a seashell on a beach is to walk in the surf when the tide is coming in. The most frequently seen shells on Waikiki Beach are cowrie shells, used by Hawaiians as an octopus lure. Cone shells are also commonly found on Waikiki Beach, particularly the Hebrew cone, the spiteful cone, and the golden yellow cone. Swollen bubbles, Adam’s bubbles, and paper bubbles, which also can be found on Waikiki Beach, are commonly used for jewelry, thanks to their contrasting colorful look.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida

Seashells on Florida's Sanibel Island.

Seashells on Florida's Sanibel Island.

Though Hawaii is indisputably among the best destinations for shells in the world, it's also true that beaches on the Gulf Coast are the best shelling beaches in the continental United States. Apparently, more than 400 species of shells can be found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

The variety and wealth of shells on Sanibel and Captiva Islands have made them top destinations for shell hunters. The islands are actually made out of shells; they're like fascinating works of art created by nature over thousands of years. When locals dig gardens in their backyards, they often find conchs, whelks, scallops, and clam shells mostly entirely intact.

People come from all over the world to these islands, drawn in by the song of the seashell. Every March, there is a special annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show, where collectors and artists proudly gather to show and compare their collections and designs. Shells are the dominant motif in island décor and boutique gifts across the islands as well.

The islands rank near the top in the entire world for shells because of geography. Sanibel Island does a twist as it parades along the coastline among a string of other more orderly, straight-and-narrow islands. The east-west torque of Sanibel's south end acts like a shovel scooping up all the seashells that the Gulf imports from the Caribbean and other southern seas.

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All of the Gulf-side beaches on Sanibel and Captiva Islands are great for shell hunting. You will find a lot of conch, cockle, coquina, tulip, junonia, and sand dollar shells, as well as lightning whelks.

Seashells on Marco Island, Florida

Seashells on Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island is the largest barrier within southwestern Florida’s islands, with more than three miles of beautiful white beach, great weather, calm shallow waters, and an abundance of ocean treasures. The Gulf bestows the island with a variety of seashells, from lion's paws and moon shells to lightning whelks and coquinas. The best time for finding shells is two days after a northwesterly wind or at low tide. The best places to find them are South Beach or the northern end of Tigertail Beach.

Sea Shell, Sea Shell,

Sing me a song, O Please!

A song of ships, and sailor men,

And parrots, and tropical trees,

Of islands lost in the Spanish Main

Which no man ever may find again,

Of fishes and corals under the waves,

And seahorses stabled in great green caves.

Sea Shell, Sea Shell,

Sing of the things you know so well.

— "Sea Shell" by Amy Lowell

Galveston Beach, Texas

Galveston Beach, Texas

Galveston Beach, Texas

Galveston is a small romantic island (32 miles long and just two and a half miles wide) located just 40 minutes south of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. The island offers great relaxing beaches with a variety of seashells.

The island's western end usually offers prime pickings. Many people believe the best shell collecting in Galveston is in the winter after a "blue norther." Some say the morning is the best time for shell collecting, while others believe the perfect time is right after a storm.

Choose the time which is best for you to visit Galveston. There you will find Hay's Rock shells, lightning whelks, murex, marsh snail, shark’s eye or moon snail, zebra periwinkle, as well as different kinds of clams and scallops.

Olive Shells

Olive Shells

San José Island, Texas

San José Island (also known as Saint Joseph Island and Saint Joe’s Island) boasts 21 miles of unspoiled Texas coastline. The pristine beaches of this uninhabited and privately owned island are open to the public but closed to vehicles. This makes it excellent for swimming, surfing, relaxing on a beach, and of course, shell collecting.

There are no amenities on San José, so for a more comfortable trip, rent a fat-tire beach bike in Port Aransas, then catch a ferry to the island (it's just a ten-minute trip to San José), and explore the island by bike. You will see lightning whelks, shark eyes, sand dollars, olive shells, wentletraps, and many other species sprinkling the sandy shoreline.

So, the beaches in the Gulf of Mexico are best for shell collecting in the mainland United States. However, there are other destinations in America for shell-lovers. Let’s look at a few less-known beaches for shells.

Stinson Beach, California

Located just north of San Francisco, California, Stinson Beach is a part of and managed by the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The scenic Highway One, which links the beach to the city, is one of many reasons to visit Stinson Beach. Another reason is shells. At three and a half miles long, Stinson Beach is one of the best shelling beaches on the West Coast.

Of course, in terms of shells, West Cost shores cannot even be compared to the Gulf beaches. But Stinson Beach is one of few that does supply limpet shells and sand dollars. At the north end of Stinson Beach, there is Bolinas Lagoon, a great area for both seal watching and shell collecting.

At low tide, you will regularly have the chance to find fossilized sand dollars. At the south end of the beach, or at “the rocks,” you can find starfish, sea anemones, and other wonders of Northern California sea life.

Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado Island, California

Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado Island, California

Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado Island, California

Silver Strand State Beach in San Diego’s South Bay region was actually named for the silvery oyster shells that cover the dunes. But this narrow seven-mile stretch of sand is also full of other kinds of shells, such as cockles, limpets, scallops, and sand dollars.

Plus, you can find a lot of clams that are buried in the sand by the water. The beach protects San Diego Bay from the sea, and the best shells can be found on the ocean side. The area offers great facilities for camping and picnicking, as well as more luxury accommodations such as Hotel del Coronado with a great spa where local shells are widely used in different treatments.

Crescent Beach, Shelter Island, New York

Crescent Beach, Shelter Island, New York

Shelter Island, New York

Nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, Shelter Island is a charming summer retreat for sophisticated New Yorkers and tourists. Surrounded by the azure Gardiner's Bay, Shelter Island Sound, and Peconic Bay, Shelter Island, with its calm and clear water, is the perfect destination for swimming, sailing, and windsurfing.

And its 25 miles of coastline with half a dozen beaches is one of the best places in the tri-state area to look for shells. Crescent Beach (Louis’ Beach to the locals) is probably the most popular beach on the island, thanks to its proximity to the trendy Sunset Beach hotel and the breathtaking sunsets you can watch from there.

Walk down the beach and away from the party people to find plenty of translucent orange and yellow jingle shells (another name is mermaid’s toenails), large spindles, snails, and scallops. Shelter Island is reachable only by ferry from both Greenport and North Haven, north of Sag Harbor.

Star Fish, Point Roberts, Washington

Star Fish, Point Roberts, Washington

Point Roberts, Washington

Located 22 miles south of downtown Vancouver in British Columbia, Point Roberts is a little-known but very unique American city. It is an exclave of the United States and can be reached from the rest of the country only by traveling through Canada or crossing Boundary Bay.

Point Roberts is very distinctive by not only its geopolitical oddity but also by its amazing pure nature, crystal clear water, breathtaking landscapes, and wealth of sea life. With the right tides, the swimming is perfect. At low tide, the beach is full of starfish, crabs, sand dollars, and other sea wonders of British Columbian sea life. The Lily Point Beach is perfect for gathering oysters and clams.

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