Seashells are plentiful on Captiva, but it is Sanibel Island that is famous for its shells. In fact, Sanibel is considered to be one of the Top 3 shelling beaches in the world. On any of its seventeen miles of beaches, Sanibel reveals an abundance of shells which will take your breath away.


Why We’re Unique

Lying in the Gulf of Mexico, with a unique east-west orientation, Sanibel’s sandy shores act as a natural “net” for shells traveling northward in the current. Each day a new type of shell seems to dominate the beach and every day holds a new experience. The types of shells on the beach vary according to the time of year.

Live Shelling is Illegal!

Please do not take live shells – this includes sea urchins, seastars (star fish) and sand dollars.
The rule of thumb is that if it is alive; look and gently return it to the water. Please don’t throw live shells, as this can maim or kill the creature. Leaving live shells ensures that there will continue to be shells on our islands for years to come. Taking live shells is illegal, the fines hefty ($500 per shell for a first offense!!), and the law enforced.

Best Time To Shell

The best time for shelling is ideally at low tide or just after a storm; but you’ll always find something to make you happy. All shells will not be on the beach. Many spectacular seashells will be found in calf to knee-deep water. Wear polarized sunglasses for an advantage seeing through the water and print out a Tide Chart to take with you.


Kneel or sit on the beach, and look closely – don’t be in a hurry! – and you’ll discover a whole other universe… that of miniatures. Many miniature shells are perfect little versions of their older bigger selves while others are a separate species all together. Developing an eye for them has an added bonus; you will find yourself slowing down yet another notch as you move into a smaller world.

Shell Museum and Shops

Local shell shops will provide plenty of inspiration, from books for identification to crafts and craft supplies. Don’t forget to visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to learn even more. The exhibits there are fabulous.

Shelling Tips

For more on shelling, visit our Hot Tips page.