The Best Southern Beaches for Avid Shellers
Seashells are wonders of nature that you can hold in the palm of your hand—if you can find one. Luckily the South has plenty of beaches for picking up those brilliantly colored creations. To improve your chances of finding those delicate coquinas, and cockles, conchs, sand dollars and those rare scotch bonnets, hit the beach at low tide when there is more beach for walking, or go in the morning after a big storm. Like any early bird can tell you, if you want to find the best shells, go early in the day before other shell hunters are up.
If you’re in the mood for a good deed, while you’re out collecting shells, bring a plastic grocery bag, too. That way you can pick up some trash along with your treasures, and make the beach a little nicer for the next shell collector. Here are some of the South’s best beaches for shell seekers:
Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
The beautiful undeveloped beaches of Pawley’s Island are an idyllic spot to hunt for jingle shells, lettered olives, or the perfectly striped banded tulip shells. The nature center at Huntington Beach State Park can teach curious minds about the inhabitants of those shells. If you want even more shell-finding opportunities, head to the nearby 312-acre Myrtle Beach State Park that lines the Grand Strand coast.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Just a ferry ride from Hatteras sits the wild expanse of Ocracoke Island, a shell-seekers paradise where giant cowries and tiny coquinas sit on the pristine white sand just waiting to be discovered. If you want the beach—and the shells—to yourself, consider a trip in the off-season.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
While bird lovers have long known about the delights of Dauphin Island, since it is a designated bird sanctuary, but shell lovers should get to know this charming beach, too. Shell hunters may have best luck after a storm, when the island’s white sugary sand is likely to be littered with gorgeous shells. Just make sure to stay off the protected dunes and check the shells to make sure you don’t take a hermit crab home with you.
Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana
The secluded beaches of the Creole Nature Trail make them the perfect spot to find natural treasures. According to their helpful shell-hunting guide, include whelks, skate egg cases, lightning whelks, angel wings, periwinkles, cat's eyes, and whatever the tidal flows deposit on the secluded Gulf beaches.
Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas
They say everything is bigger in Texas and that includes the beaches. The Padre Island National Seashore stretches for 70 miles along the Gulf Coast, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. That means Lone Star State residents have plenty of prime shell-hunting territory, particularly in Little Shell and Big Shell beaches, where cockles, quahogs, and coquinas can be found.
Shell Island, Near Panama City Beach, Florida
The pickings have to be good to earn a name like Shell Island and this one, which is part of St. Andrews State Park, does not disappoint. Just make sure you arrive early, as nearly everyone who comes to this undeveloped barrier island is on the hunt.
Sanibel Island, Florida
It’s nearly impossible to step foot on Sanibel Island without stepping foot on a shell. You can recognize fellow shell collectors by their “Sanibel stoop” as they bend over to collect cockles, whelks, and moon snails. If you need more mollusks, cross the bridge to Captiva Island for more shell seeking. When you need a break from the sun, head to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.