15 Beaches with the Best Seashells in the World
Feast your eyes on these stunning destinations that are brimming with whelks, cockles, Scotch bonnets, and conchs.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Named the best shelling spot in North America by Travel & Leisure magazine, Sanibel Island—located near Fort Meyers on the Gulf of Mexico—is a true haven for seashell-spotting enthusiasts. “It turns out this region’s east-west topography makes it an ideal final resting place for an amazing variety of shells,” says Gabe Saglie, senior editor, Travelzoo. “There are 400 varieties in all, rolling onshore by the thousands every day. Horse conches, jingle shells, giant cockles, calico scallops—take your pick. The Junonia shell is a locals’ favorite.” Sanibel is also home to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the only museum in the United States dedicated to shells. A word of caution to all well-intentioned seashell gatherers: Collecting seashells from any beach may disrupt the local aquatic ecosystem (they provide homes for hermit crabs, a place for small fish to hide, and material for birds to build their nests), so it’s best to admire, take pictures, and then leave them in their natural habitat.
Shell Beach, Saint Barthelemy
You don’t earn the name “shell beach” without having a truly impressive array of shells available—and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Shell Beach in Gustavia, St. Barths (as the French-speaking Caribbean island is commonly known). In fact, there are so many shells several inches deep, that you won’t be able to walk this beach with bare feet. “Shell beach is one part of the island where a ton of shells have accumulated on the shore,” says Sveva Marcangeli, owner and founder of travel blog Svadore. No matter how engrossed you become in your seashell hunt, keep an eye out for these 12 hidden beach dangers you need to take seriously.
Shell Beach, Australia
Thankfully, the name “Shell Beach” hasn’t been trademarked, because there’s another location worthy of the same designation—this time, it’s in the Shark Bay region of Western Australia. While this beach may appear to be covered in pure white sand from a distance, there actually isn’t a grain of sand to be found—it’s entirely blanketed in billions of tiny white shells from the cockle species, and runs up to ten meters deep in some sections. Check out the 13 most photogenic beaches in the world for more beautiful spots like this.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Located 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, Georgia, Tybee Island is a five-mile-long beach perfect for beachcombers. You’ll find a variety of seashells, including whelk, olive, and moon snail in a wide array of colors. For instance, the Ark shells, one of the most common bivalve shells, range from gray, dark red, orange, gold, and white. You never know where the best places will be on Tybee to find shells because of the changing tides, but oftentimes, you will find big shell deposits when walking along the sand. On calmer parts of the beach, there is a better chance of finding the more fragile shells, such as Duck Clams, Pen Shells, Razor Clams, and Angel Wings.
Playa de Punta Umbria, Spain
Jacinto Marabel Romo/Shutterstock
In the autonomous community of Andalusia in Southern Spain is Punta Umbria—and its beaches are bursting with bivalve seashells. “Very often, the low tides leave an amazing array of shells behind,” says Carlos Quintero, founder of Andalusia Lifestyles, a company that helps American citizens navigate retiring to Spain. “They tend to belong to the same type, like big clams, but they come in many different sizes, colors, and shapes. Sometimes it is like a massive carpet of shells covering the shore, very spectacular!”
San Blas Islands, Panama
An archipelago on the Caribbean shore of Panama, the San Blas islands are some of the most beautiful, remote beaches in the world, with coral reefs and lots of shells. “These reefs are just off the beaches and there are barely any tides, so it’s possible to search for shells at any time,” says Jorge Bastos, editor of Travel Drafts. “The most impressive shells I found in San Blas were the sand dollars, which are a species of sea urchins. Sand dollars have imprinted a leaf which is so perfectly designed that at first sight seems impossible that aren’t manmade.” Although it may be very tempting to bring some shells home with you, it’s actually forbidden to do so in San Blas.
Kite Beach, Dubai
A hotspot for kite surfers in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai’s Kite Beach can also provide thrills to those searching for beautiful seashells in the white sand. “I heard it’s best at low tide, but I was there in the afternoon and easily found shells,” says Christabel Lobo, a freelance writer and designer born and raised in Dubai. From this spot, you’ll also have a great view of the iconic Burj Al Arab, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels.
Cameron Parish, Louisiana
Courtesy Visit Lake Charles
Most people don’t think of beaches in Louisiana, but the shelling on the western side of the state, in Cameron Parish, is full of surprises. They call this part of the state “Louisiana’s Outback,” and it’s full of natural wonders (and alligators, which outnumber humans ten to one). “Traveling the Creole Nature Trail is a terrific way to explore the area, as it offers 26 miles of natural beaches that are incredibly undeveloped but also easily accessible, making them the perfect locales for finding whelks, cockles, angel wings, cat’s eyes, olives, wentletraps, coquinas, and periwinkles,” says Anne Klenke, the tourism director of Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Rutherford Beach in eastern Cameron Parish is one great site, and the smaller beaches west of Holly Beach are also prime shell-collecting territories.” Why are shells so plentiful here? Located west of the Mississippi Delta, the beaches are constantly replenished by the Mississippi River’s southeast tidal flow, which carries rich deposits of driftwood and a wide variety of shells. Low tide following a storm system offers prime shelling.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
The beautiful and expansive beaches of New Smyrna Beach, south of Daytona Beach, are worthy of a postcard—but it’s the thousands of different shells that blanket several areas of the beach that make it a seashell scouting paradise. “So many are in excellent shape,” says Rhonda Weaver, founder of travel blog Roaming Red Feather. “Rounded edges, different sizes, and colors ranging from reds and whites to dark browns and pink, too. Since there are so many seashells everywhere, it’s wise to make sure you have shoes you can slip on.” Just be careful if you enter the water, as this is also known as the shark attack capital of the world. Don’t miss the 12 other most dangerous beaches in the world.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Courtesy Crystal Coast TDA
You may recognize the iconic lighthouse on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, but it’s the 56-stretch of undeveloped shimmering beaches accessible only by boat that will catch any shell-lover’s attention. Knobbed whelks, bay scallops, Scotch bonnets, and other types of shells can be found washed up on these shores—try to comb the beach early in the morning, at low tide, after a storm, or during times of lower visitation such as the winter months for the best yield. A basketball-sized helmet shell—four times bigger than average—was found here recently!