19 Proven Tips For Finding Seashells On The Beach

How find seashells on the beach.

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Finding seashells on the beach is one of the most rewarding things to do on a coastal vacation. 

It’s fun for kids and adults and will teach you about marine life in the area.

For instance, did you know that a scotch bonnet is a predator to sand dollars, urchins, and sea biscuits? It uses sulfuric acid to drill holes into their shells.

Pretty cool, right? And it’s one of the prized shells to collect in North Carolina.

The following tips will help you find fantastic seashells on any beach you visit.

And before you hit the beach, read this shell identification guide. It will help you keep on the lookout for rare and prized shells.

Read More24 Best Shelling Beaches in NC Including Secret Spots
Read MoreVisit The Gorgeous Beaches Of Okaloosa Island, FL

1 – Go Before or After Low Tide

Best tide for shelling

The best tide for shelling is about an hour before or after low tide. 

High tide will bring those beautiful shells inland. As the tide recedes, you’ll be able to see the treasures the tide left behind.

Remember to look up the tide charts for the beach you are shelling at to prepare for the best time to hunt.

2 – Go Out Early In The Morning To Beat Other Shellers

The best time to go shelling is early in the morning

The best time to go shelling is before anyone else gets there.

Even if you’ve found a great beach to shell at, the best shells will be found by the people that get there first.

Serious shellers are even known to bring a flashlight and hunt before the sun comes up. (Yes, some shellers go out when it’s still dark!)

For this reason, it’s important to get up early in the morning or find a time and place where there’s not a lot of competition.

3 – Wade Into The Water A Few Feet 

Where to find the best seashells - wade out into the water

Sometimes the best shells can be found by wading into the water a few feet, especially if the beach has already been picked over.

This works well if the beach has a shallow shoreline with gentle waves that allow shells to wash up in one piece.

And it’s helpful to have a net handy to catch the shells before they wash away. In fact, a net with a long handle will allow you to reach far into the water to capture shells.

The ocean side of Shackleford Banks on the coast of North Carolina is a great place to find large conch shells. Many people have great luck by wading out into the water to pull out these treasures. Bring goggles and a large bag to carry home your findings.

4 – Look Through Grass and piles Of Seaweed

Where to find the best seashells look in seaweed

If you’re only looking at the shoreline for seashells, you may be missing out on hidden treasures.

Grass and seaweed can be one of the best places to find seashells. Many people will walk right by a clump of seaweed and not even notice the delicate shells hiding there.

5 – Dig Into The Sand

How to find seashells on the beach by digging in the sand

Digging into the sand can also help you find seashells.

Bring a shovel to dig up partially buried shells.

You can even find shovels that have a built-in sifter to separate the sand from the shells.

Shovel With Sifter

Beach Shovel

6 – Hunt For Shells After A Storm

The best time to find seashells is after a storm

One of the best times to hunt for shells is after a storm.

Powerful storms can cause strong currents that provide excellent shelling.

Try to visit the beach after a hurricane or strong wind. You’ll most likely find rare and unusual shells.

Shell Identification Guide

7 – Go In The Off-Season

The best time to find seashells is in the off-season.

During the colder months, there are fewer visitors to the beach. For this reason, the off-season is one of the best times to find seashells.

Though the ocean is gorgeous any time of year, dress warmly to brave the chilly temperatures.

Consider bringing waders, scuba boots, or water shoes to keep your feet warm while you search the water’s edge. This would also be a great time to use a net to search the water for shells while keeping your hands warm and dry.

Scuba Boots

8 – Wear Polarized Sunglasses

How to find large shells at the beach - use polarized sunglasses

UV sun rays are hard on the eyes, and the bright sun can keep you from seeing the best shells.

Wearing polarized sunglasses will protect your eyes and help you find shells on the beach and in the water.

Polarized Sunglasses

9 – Search Tidal Pools And Marshes

Search tidal pools to find the best shells

Tide pools and marshes can be a rewarding place to look for sea creatures.

Crabs, mussels, urchins, starfish, and sand dollars are some of the marine life you may find in a tide pool.

Know what your local laws are regarding taking shells from tide pools and marshes. 

If the animal is alive, leave it there. If a shell is abandoned, check your local regulations to know if it is okay to take with you. 

An empty shell can actually provide a home for a growing sea critter.

10 – Find Remote Beaches

Find remote beaches to help you find shells

The more untouched a beach is, the more shell treasures you may find there.

Beaches and islands that take a ferry to get to will often be worthwhile to visit.

In my home state of North Carolina, Portsmouth Island is known as a wonderful shelling destination because you have to take a 45-minute ferry to get there and have a 4WD vehicle to get around.

11 – Hunt For Shells During Full Moon Or New Moon

When is the best time to go shelling? When there is a full moon.

A full moon or new moon can produce extreme waves that bring wonderful shells to the shore.

You’ll have extra shelling success if you combine a full moon with a low tide or a recent storm.

12 – Search For Shells In Inlets

Search inlets to find the best seashells

Many people hunt along the ocean’s edge for shells but don’t forget that deep currents run through inlets which can produce interesting finds.

If possible, explore inlets and marshes with a kayak to search sandy shores for shelling treasures.

13 – Find A Beach That Allows 4WD Vehicles

How to find shell beds with 4WD

In North Carolina, we are blessed with many beaches in the Outer Banks that you can explore with a 4WD vehicle.

This allows you to search remote areas of the beach that few people can get to, which means more shells for you.

Check the beaches in your area to see if any allow 4WD. Or, visit us here in NC!

Here is one of my favorite 4WD tours along the Outer Banks. Book Here

14 – Take Your Time Looking For Seashells

Take your time to hunt for seashells

Hunting for seashells takes time and patience.

Sit down by a bed of shells and enjoy your time looking through them. It can be very therapeutic. 

And it’s so rewarding when you finally find a scotch bonnet, conch, whelk, or whatever special shell you’re hunting for.

15 – Pick A Good Spot To Find Shells

Find a good spot to go shelling

You’ll likely find shells at any beach, but to find the best shelling spots, go where the locals go.

And how can you know that?

Check out local shelling Facebook groups – like this one in North Carolina. Members in these groups are serious shellers and discuss the best spots to look for shells in the area.

You can also ask members about where to look for shells in the area you are staying.

Another tactic is to ask the owners of the hotel/home you are staying at. They’ll know the area well and will most likely point you to spots that aren’t well-known.

I’d also suggest searching reviews about the beach you’re staying at on Tripadvisor. Use the search bar to put in the word “shell”. All comments about that beach that mentions shelling will come up.

Seashell Mug

16 – Find Lodging Near Shelling Area

Find a beach house near where you want to go shelling to find seashells

Some of the best shelling beaches are hard or impossible to access unless you’re staying at a home in that community.

If you’re unable to find lodging on a beach, stay as close as possible. This will make it easier to get out early in the morning before other shellers are out.

My favorite place to book a home is VRBO. The advantage of booking a home over a hotel is the extra space you will get inside the home and outside. If you have kids or a pet, this is the way to go. 

When looking for a hotel, I prefer Hotels.com. My husband and I have used them for years because you get a free hotel night for every 10 nights you book.

18 – Don’t Take Live Shells

Don't take live seashells

When I visited Sand Dollar Island in North Carolina years ago, people were hauling out live sand dollars by the bucket.

It was sad to see so many sea creatures going to their death.

Check local laws to know the rules in your area regarding shell collecting. 

Some beaches won’t even allow you to take empty shells.

But if the shells do have a sea creature living inside, leave it there. You can take a picture or visit a local gift shop to buy shell souvenirs to take home.

19 – Bring The Right Equiptment

Bring the right equiptment to find shells on the beach

All you need to find shells is a good pair of eyes, patience, and a bit of luck. 

But having the right equipment can help also.

Consider bringing these items to your next shelling adventure:

  1. Shell Bag
  2. Sifter
  3. Shovel
  4. Polarized sunglasses
  5. Water shoes
  6. Waders
  7. Scuba boots
  8. Net
  9. Seashell identification guide
  10. Goggles
  11. Sand Flea Rake
  12. Bug spray
  13. Sunscreen
  14. Sun hat
  15. Grocery sack for litter 
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53 Responses

  1. As kids, I remember doing this to bring home colorful shells for our aquarium. Reading your post brought back beautiful memories of childhood and collecting shells for fun. Thank you, for sharing.

  2. I’ll share this with my grandkids! They are headed to the beach in Florida in two weeks.

    1. That’s awesome. I’m dying to get down to Florida to do some shelling. There are some great spots there like Sanibel Island.

    1. You have a lot better chance at getting the shells before they wash away if you have a net.

  3. This is an awesome list! My daughter loves to look for shells! When we were in Aruba, we found a live conch. We took plenty of pics, the kids got to hold the shell for a bit, then back into the water he went!

  4. These are the best and such helpful tips for finding seashells on the beach. I had no idea there were so many pieces of equipment that you could use. Definitely an art and a science behind shelling!

    1. It’s so much easier to walk up and down the beach looking for shells when you have a good bag for holding them, a shovel, and good sunglasses.

  5. My mom loves shells and my daughter is moving to North Carolina. Hopefully, there’s a place close to her so I can take my granddaughters there to collect shells for my mom. Or better yet get us all there. Looks like North Carolina will have so many nice beaches.

  6. I remember, I would go with my family to the back beaches. The sea shells were amazing and big. Nowadays, in many places here. especially the National and State Parks, it’s not allowed to collect them and other forms of nature.

    1. You have to be careful not to disturb the sealife. Even if the shells are empty, you may not legally be able to take them.

  7. I love seashells, they’re just so beautiful. I try not to take too much when I’m on a beach though, now litter though, that’s something I’ll gladly take away 😜

  8. Fantastic tips and advice for shell hunting! I can’t believe people take live shells… Lesson are learned every day! Thank you for sharing your great insight!

    1. It was really sad to see so many sand dollars taken live. I hope it isn’t allowed anymore.

  9. Wow, this is amazing! I just learned so much! I wish I lived close to a beach, because I would totally go shelling!

  10. I live in Pawleys Island, SC and walk the beach often. I love when there is a low tide at sunrise. That is the best time for finding seashells! I enjoyed your article and look forward to reading others.

  11. We LOVE finding shells on the beach! One time I went for a run on the beach, except I kept stopping every 20 feet to grab yet another cool shell I saw. I came back to the hotel after way too long with full hands 😉

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