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Top Ten US Beaches for Shell Collecting

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

Shells are widely collected, traded and appreciated for their beauty and rarity.

Shells are widely collected, traded and appreciated for their beauty and rarity.

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

Even though it has been proven that it is not actually the ocean you’re hearing in a shell, 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. Many artists and designers use shells in their arts. A lot of people enjoy walking along the beach picking up seashells and other sea treasures that the ocean generously has brought to the coast. And it is so exciting to find the perfect shell with no flaws and blemishes, just the right size and shape. Even though perfect seashells are hard to find, knowing the right beach for searching can increase the probability of finding them. The United States has many miles of shorelines covered with these beautiful treasures of the ocean, so we are lucky to have a big number of shelling beaches to choose from.

Sea Shells collected on Waikiki Beach, Oahu Hawaii

Sea Shells collected on Waikiki Beach, 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 seashells are difficult to compare to seashells 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. And not only for jewelry or design but as a fish hook and even as a horn to herald their 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 Bubble, Adam’s Bubble and Paper Bubble, which also can be spotted on Waikiki Beach, are commonly used for jewelry, thanks to their contrasting colorful look.

If Hawaii is indisputably among the best destinations for shells in the world, then it is fair to say that Gulf beaches 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. The region has a lot of beautiful islands and fantastic shores, but if you are looking for shells go to these top five Gulf beaches for shell collecting.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sea Shells on Sanibel Island, Florida

Sea Shells on Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

The wealth and variety of shells have made Sanibel and Captiva Islands top American destinations for seashells. The islands are actually made out of shells, like some fascinating work of shell 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 perfectly intact. People come from all over the world to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, drawn by the song of the seashell. Every March there is a special annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show, where shell collectors and artists proudly gather to show and compare their collections and designs. Shells are the dominant motif in island décor and boutique gifts. The islands rank tops in the world for shells because of geography. Sanibel Island does the 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. All of the Gulf-side beaches on Sanibel and Captiva Islands are great for shell hunting. You will find a lot of conch shells, junonia shells, lightning whelks, cockle shells, tulip shells, sand dollar shells and coquinas shells.

Sea Shells on Marco Island, Florida

Sea Shells on Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island is the largest barrier island within southwest Florida’s Islands with more than three miles of beautiful white beach, great weather, calm shallow waters and abundance of ocean treasures. The Gulf bestows on the island 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.

Galveston beach, Texas

Galveston beach, Texas

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Galveston, Texas

Galveston is a small romantic island (32 miles long and two and a half miles wide) just 40 minutes south of the fourth largest city in the United States. The island offers great relaxing beaches with a variety of seashells. Galveston Island's western end usually offers prime pickings. Many believe that the best shell collecting in Galveston is in the winter after a "blue norther." Some say that the morning is the best time for shell collecting while others believe that the perfect time is right after a storm. Choose the time which is best for you to visit Galveston and 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 Jose 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 privately owned island are open to the public but closed to vehicles, which makes it excellent for swimming, surfing, relaxing on a beach and of course shell collecting. There are no amenities on San Jose, so for a more comfortable trip, rent a fat-tires beach bike in Port Aransas, then catch a ferry to the island (just ten minutes trip to San Jose), and explore the island by bike. You will see lightning whelks, shark’s eyes, sand dollars, olive shells, wentletraps and many other species of shells sprinkling the sandy shoreline.

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

Stinson Beach, California

Stinson Beach, California

Stinson Beach, California

Located just north of San Francisco California, Stinson Beach is a part of 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 3.5 miles long, Stinson Beach is one the best shelling beaches on West Coast. Of course, in terms of shells, West Cost shores cannot be even 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 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, at “the rocks”, you can find starfish, sea anemone 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 was even named for the silvery oyster shells that cover the dunes here. 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 could 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

Jingle Shells

Jingle Shells

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 azure Gardiner's Bay, Shelter Island Sound and Peconic Bays, 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, away from the party people, and you will find plenty of translucent orange and yellow Jingle shells (another name 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 British Columbia, Point Roberts is a very little-known unique American city. It is an exclave of the USA and can be reached from the rest of the United States 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 Columbia sea life. The Lily Point Beach is perfect to gather oysters and clams.

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