The Best Southern Beaches for Avid Shellers

Shells and Ocean on Sanibel Island, Florida
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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, 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. 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. 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.

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Pawley's Island, South Carolina

Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
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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. At Myrtle Beach, with almost 60 miles of unbroken shoreline, you can wander for miles and miles to search for—and almost certainly find!—the perfect seashells.

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Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island, GA Woman Riding Bike on Beach
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Georgia's largest barrier island is one of the best places to rent bikes, walk the beach, and find sand dollars, olive shells, calico scallops, and sharks' teeth. The park does ask that you make sure the seashells are unoccupied before bringing any shells home, though. Removing live organisms and specimens from Georgia beaches—and elsewhere—is a big no-no.

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Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
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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 when there are fewer traditional beachgoers and vacationers around taking up space.

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Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island, Alabama
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While bird lovers have long known about the delights of Dauphin Island, since it is a designated bird sanctuary, others may not have paid it much attention. We think shell lovers should definitely 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.

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Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana
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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. Holly Beach, a part of this Creole Nature Trail, is an undeveloped stretch of white sand where you can find a variety of pretty things buried in the sand or newly washed ashore. The white sands and clear waters make it an opportune place to hunt for seashells, as well as brilliant sea glass, which appear in blues, greens, pinks, and pearly whites.

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Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas
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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 on Little Shell and Big Shell beaches, where cockles, quahogs, and coquinas can be found. Big Shell Beach is a popular spot, brimming with beautiful, smooth shells. The smattering of shells is believed to be the result of a convergence of ocean currents washing up millions of the tiny treasures in various forms, sizes, and hues. The currents even polish the shells, leaving them smooth and spotless. Indeed, there is a wealth of beauty to bring home from the Padre Island National Seashore.

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Shell Island, Near Panama City Beach, Florida

Shell Island, Near Panama City Beach, Florida
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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 it is a fairly popular spot and nearly everyone who comes to this undeveloped barrier island is on the hunt for unique shells.

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Sanibel Island, Florida

Shells and Ocean on Sanibel Island, Florida
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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 to check out interesting shells found by others.

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The Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

A closeup of a shell midden in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, created by prehistoric people from mostly mollusk shells.

The Ten Thousand Islands are a group of small islands off the Florida coast, just south of Marco Island, and they are notable for their diverse collection of shells. The islands are virtually entirely dedicated to beachcombing and shelling. As a result, ordinary beachgoers who like playing in the sand and surf, as well as other beach activities, rarely damage the shells or get in the way of collectors. When you visit The Ten Thousand Islands, you can expect to walk away with plenty of stunning, unbroken shells. However, navigating these islands on your own is not easy. So, taking advantage of one of their shelling tours is the best and safest way to experience the treasures they hold. These islands happen to be among the best places to look for speckled Junonia shells, which are extremely rare and valuable. Beyond that, sand dollars, conch shells, murex shells, worm-snail shells, Florida spiny jewel boxes, and lightning whelk shells are just a few of the items found by shellers there.

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Tigertail Beach, Marco Island, Florida

Tigertail Beach, Marco Island, Florida

The entirety of Marco Island is a shell-hunter's paradise, actually. There are numerous places to find a variety of beautiful shells, but Tigertail Beach is the most well-known shelling spot. Fighting conch shells, calico scallops, sand dollars, starfish, horse conch shells, moon snail shells, and lightning whelk shells are just a few of the shells that are often found there by beachcombers. For groups with diverse interests, Tigertail Beach—and Marco Island overall—is the perfect beach getaway, because it has more than shelling to offer. For those who want to unwind, there is plenty of space to relax on beach towels, lounging under big umbrellas. There's also plenty of wildlife to spot if you have any birdwatchers in your group. On top of that, there are a variety of other activities available, such as kayaking for water enthusiasts and a playground for children. So, it's easy to make Tigertail Beach a family-friendly vacay or day trip destination.

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Carova Beach, North Carolina

"Carova, North Carolina, USA - September 20, 2012: A horizontal shot of a red Jeep Wrangler driving through the sand at Carova Beach in Currituck County in North Carolina. At the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, to the left of the vehicle, a woman is walking with her three dogs."

North Carolina's northernmost beach, Carova Beach is ideal for shelling because it has a shallow, sloping shoreline, allowing for more fragile seashells to wash up on the shore without breaking or chipping. The beach is also only accessible by a vehicle with 4WD. This means fewer people will be hunting for shells on its shores, as many people prefer easy-access oceanfront adventure, play, or relaxation. Heading to Carova Beach during the off-season means that you are likely to have even more privacy, with most of the beach and the seashells to yourself and whoever might accompany you on your shelling excursion.

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Frisco Beach, Hatteras Island, North Carolina

Frisco Beach, Hatteras Island, North Carolina
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Frisco Beach is a south-facing beach. It stands out because it has warmer waters than the Outer Banks' east-facing beaches. There are even periods during the year when you will be able to watch an oceanfront sunrise, usually from late fall through early spring. So, if you visit Frisco Beach during this part of the year, be sure to have your camera ready to document both the breathtaking beach sunrise and the beautiful seashells. The beach's south-facing warm waters mean that the waves are softer. Softer waves mean that shells can wash ashore in one piece, gently placed by the water. This makes Frisco Beach ideal for hunting for intact shells.

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Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach, South Carolina
Riddhish Chakraborty

There are more than 700 species of seashells that can be in coastal South Carolina waters, and many of them can be found on Folly Beach, and more. Angel wings, whelks, slipper shells, arks, pen shells, cockles, jingles, coquinas, augers, and olive shells are among the most common found in local waters and on the beach. The abundance of not only seashells, but also fossils, urchins, sand dollars, and starfish that wash up onto Folly Beach is what makes it so special. So, in the midst of shell-hunting, you can also search for an array of fossilized shark teeth and fish vertebrae. But the most peculiar and bizarre thing about it is that these treasures often somehow manage to find their way up into the trees! That fact alone makes this beach worth a visit, so you can marvel at the sight of shells dangling from tree branches, like a magical, beachy Christmas.

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Rutherford Beach, Louisiana

Sand dunes on Rutherford Beach, Cameron Parish, Louisiana
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The crashing waves are always leaving behind seashells to collect on Rutherford Beach, and the best time to collect them is early in the morning, especially after a big storm. This is a family-friendly beach that also permits pets, with plenty of sand to play in and waves to ride. Groups even camp right next to the water. Ask local Louisianians about the best fishing and crabbing spots.

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St. Andrews Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, Georgia
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In addition to shelling opportunities, this area of the island is ideal for bird and dolphin watching from the wildlife viewing tower. It also has a beautiful bike trail. On the shores of St. Andrews Beach, you will be able to find both unique shells and smooth, colorful sea glass. Coquina shells, moon snails, sand dollars, wentletraps, and even shark teeth are among the artifacts that are commonly found there.

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