If your favorite activity is combing the sand, beaches rarely disappoint. With a little creativity, there is always something to pick up, whether it’s a sea bean, seashell, polished glass, or piece of drift wood. However, if you are looking to really score some fabulous finds, with a little research, you can find the best shelling beaches before you travel.
Steve Millburg (Coastal Living’s website, March 2007) gives us the skinny on the best places to shell:
1. Sanibel Island, Florida
This one probably comes as no surprise. Having been there several times with my family, most of my jars and salt shakers of beach finds comes from Sanibel Island. The fabulous variety of colors, shapes, and sizes are sure to please anyone who combs its shores. According to Millburg, “Seashells cover the beaches, tinkling like wind chimes as they tumble over one another in the waves. Low-key development, abundant wildlife, and great restaurants make the island a wonderful all-around getaway.”
2. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Notably, “Stephen ‘Dr. Beach’ Leatherman ranked Ocracoke third on his 2006 ‘top beaches’ list.” Who are we to argue with “Dr. Beach?” Located in the Outer Banks, you won’t likely be competing with other tourists for the best beach finds. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to pick up a Scotch bonnet, the state shell of North Carolina.
3. Bandon, Oregon
The West Coast might not be home to the absolute best seashell finds “because the mighty Pacific Ocean waves tend to chew up most specimens.” Here, the best finds are in more protected areas, such as the mouth of the Coquille River. “As consolation prizes, winter storms also toss up Japanese glass fishing floats and such semiprecious stones as agate and jasper,” according to Millburg. You may even find more than you bargained for, considering the residual effects of Japan’s earthquake.
4. Galveston, Texas
Although I’ve never been, I’ve only heard good things about the beaches of Galveston, Texas. This Gulf of Mexico beach offers up some great shelling finds. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “Gulf beaches are considered the best shelling beaches in North America.”
5. Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
You can’t go wrong in Hawaii. Even if the waves have smashed your shells to a pulp, they’ve turned them into something new and beautiful. Kauai is known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle,” and you can find nice shells “especially in the area around Haena, near the end of the road that doesn’t quite circle Kauai…Legend has it that the puka shell-necklace craze began here in the 1960s.” This makes me want to put on my old cassette (really old) of Coconut Willie and throw on a lei.
6. Flag Ponds Nature Park, Lusby, Maryland
Interestingly, “most of the shells here, along the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis, are fossils dating back millions of years. They’ve come from the Calvert Cliffs, a 30-mile stretch of what was the sea bottom during the Miocene Epoch. Today’s bay determinedly chews into the cliffs, freeing the shells, shark teeth, and other fossils within.” There is an entrance fee to the park. To the south, Calvert Cliffs State Park is also worth a trip.
7. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
A solitary shelling spot, travel to this barrier island is restricted by ferry access under the control of the National Park Service. Comb miles of Atlantic beach, picking up sand dollars and shark teeth, without seeing another soul.
8. Eleuthera Island, The Bahamas
Although hurricanes make the news for all the wrong reasons, here is the up side. Waves toss up piles of shells onto these beaches. One of The Bahamas’ “Out Islands”, Eleuthera is a short trip by air from Fort Lauderdale or Miami, Florida.
9. Great Peconic Bay, Long Island, New York
Here you can pick up New York’s official state shell, the Atlantic Bay Scallop (or Bay Scallop)!
10. Stinson Beach, California
This lovely beach, just north of San Francisco, doesn’t have the same quality of shelling as its Gulf Coast counterparts, but you may be able to pick up some limpet shells and sand dollars. Otherwise, you can enjoy the surf, nearby restaurants, and the “rugged natural beauty, and endearing small-town quirkiness.”
What do you think? Are these beaches on the top of your list, or is there some place else you would rather shell? I, for one, have never been to a beach that was devoid of treasure. Happy Shelling!