Sanibel is known for a lot of things – from our beautiful beaches, spectacular sunsets to our wonderful laid-back lifestyle. However, did you know that Sanibel is one of the best places in the WORLD to search for seashells?

Ranked in the top 10 best U.S. shelling beaches by Travel + Leisure, shelling in Sanibel is so spectacular because of its unique location. Our distinct curved location on the Gulf of Mexico makes Sanibel a prime area to act as a “scoop” for shells that come in off crashing waves. This phenomenon is known as the “Sanibel stoop,” and is a hallmark of the area, and why the best shells tend to come onshore our beaches.

Sanibel Captiva Shell Chart

Best Locations On Sanibel For Shelling

Sanibel has over seventeen miles of shoreline to explore. No matter what time of year, you are guaranteed to find some beautiful shells in a variety of spots on the island.

There are many locations within Sanibel to go and look for shells. Popular locations in Sanibel and Captiva include Bowman’s Beach, Lighthouse Beach Park, Gulfside City Park, Blind Pass Beach, and Tarpon Beach. All of these have public access areas and are great spots for the whole family to enjoy.

Our island has a wide variety of shells – over 200 unique types! Some of the more include conch, scallops, tulip, and coquina. Many areas that you visit will have guides that give insights into the types of shells that are present on the island. Shelling books are also a helpful reference if you are interested in identifying them, and many stores in Sanibel have them on hand for purchase. Here is also a great link with information on different types of shells.

Another hallmark of Sanibel shelling is the ability to find extremely rare shells. Some of the most sought-after shells in North America, including the Junonia, Lion’s Paw and Knobless Wonder can be found on the shores of Sanibel.

Shelling on Sanibel

How To Find The Best Sanibel Shells

Here are some additional tips to follow when looking for shells on Sanibel Island:

  • Dig for shells! Sometimes, they bury under the sand. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and your feet wet.
  • Never take a live shell (one that still has the animal inside). This is against Florida law and can cause a negative impact on the environment. Admire their beauty, but then put them back in the water.
  • Arrive at the beach early. The best shells typically come up with the tides, so always follow the tides and the moon cycles.
  • Low tide typically is the best time to find shells, as the receding water exposes sandbars and allows you to view even more shells that typically might be hidden by the water.

If you’re passionate about shells and learning more about them, a great place to visit while on the island is the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum. The museum has live tanks, exhibitions, group tours, beach walks and much more for the avid shell lover. They also have a wide variety of other special activities for the whole family, including jewelry making and fossil digs.

If you find a great shell (or a great variety of ones!), Sanibel also has an active social media presence for their shell discoveries. Use the hashtag #sanibelshells on Instagram to find a variety of gorgeous pictures from previous finds!

We hope that you’ll come and visit Sanibel and explore our beautiful shoreline – and take some time for yourself to go and look at the variety of shells we have to collect and view!