How To Find Seashells On The Beach
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 of 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 most 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 More – 24 Best Shelling Beaches in NC, Including Secret Spots
Read More – The 16 Best Sea Shelling Tools Ever
Read More – Why Ocean Isle Beach Is A Hidden Gem
1 – Go Before or After Low Tide
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 hunting time.
2 – Go Out Early In The Morning To Beat Other Shellers
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
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
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
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
6 – Hunt For Shells 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
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.
8 – Wear Polarized Sunglasses
Wearing polarized sunglasses will protect your eyes and help you find shells on the beach and in the water.
UV sun rays are hard on the eyes, and the bright sun can keep you from seeing the best shells.
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.
9 – Search Tidal Pools And Marshes
Tide pools and marshes can be rewarding places 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 your local laws 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
The more untouched a beach is, the more shell treasures you may find.
Beaches and islands that take a ferry to get to will often be worthwhile to visit.
Portsmouth Island is a wonderful shelling destination in my home state of North Carolina 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
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
Many people hunt along the ocean’s edge for shells but don’t forget that deep currents run through inlets, producing interesting finds.
Explore inlets and marshes with a kayak to search sandy shores for shelling treasures if possible.
13 – Find A Beach That Allows 4WD Vehicles
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 beach areas that few people can visit, 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. It’s a 2-hour tour along the beach where you get to spot wild ponies. Check out the tour Here
14 – Take Your Time Looking 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
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 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.
16 – Find Lodging Near Shelling Area
Some of the best shelling beaches are hard or impossible to access unless you’re staying at a home in that community.
Stay as close as possible if you cannot find lodging on a beach. 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. This is the way to go if you have kids or a pet.
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
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 Equipment
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:
- Shell Bag
- Polarized sunglasses
- Water shoes
- Scuba boots
- Seashell identification guide
- Sand Flea Rake
- Bug spray
- Sun hat
- Grocery sack for litter
Read our Ultimate Seashell Identification Guide HERE!
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I’m so jealous that you live in North Carolina! It’s a great place, as I have extracted from rumors, and the best seashells are always within reach. On the other hand, I love the beach but live in the center of the country. Good luck with your seashell hunts 🙂 !
Thank you! NC is a great place to enjoy the beach and look for seashells!
I love sea shelling with my little ones. We do all sorts of fun things with them.
Shells are fun to use for crafts like picture frames and jewelry.
Looks like fun! Shells are so beautiful.
I love shells too! So many shapes and sizes!
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.
You’re welcome. Thanks for reading!
These are great tips for finding shells. I like going out early in the morning to find them. I tend to find a lot when we visit Topsail Island.
Topsail Island is also a great place to find shark teeth!
I’ll share this with my grandkids! They are headed to the beach in Florida in two weeks.
That’s awesome. I’m dying to get down to Florida to do some shelling. There are some great spots there like Sanibel Island.
Great tips on finding seashells on the beach. I never considered bringing a net and looking in the shallow water.
You have a lot better chance at getting the shells before they wash away if you have a net.
By the time my sluggish kids get out of bed and we actually get to the beach, it’s usually picked clean. I’ve got to wake them up earlier!
When you’re on vacation, it’s hard to get up! 🙂
We’ve collected so many shells over the years. Great tips to find some the best seashells.
Thank you! I’m glad you love shelling as much as I do!
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!
That would be so cool to find a live conch shell. They are so large!
This is very good advice. Especially following the tides.
Following the tides really makes a big difference in finding shells.
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!
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.
Great ideas for shelling! Some I knew, most I didn’t! I love your photos too!
I’m glad you like these shelling tips and the photos! Thanks for reading.
I remember doing this as a kid…wonderful memories!!
Shelling is such a fun thing for kids to do!
Wow – I had no idea there was so much strategy to finding shells! I love all your tips.
Great tips for hunting shells, one of my favorite things to do at the beach.
It’s interesting how seriously some people take their shelling! 🙂
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.
North Carolina has so many nice beaches for shelling or swimming.
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.
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.
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 😜
Litter is such a great thing to take from the beach!
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!
It was really sad to see so many sand dollars taken live. I hope it isn’t allowed anymore.
Some of our most romantic moments have been spent on the beach looking at shells. It’s so relaxing.
Looking for shells is pretty romantic. ❤
Wow, this is amazing! I just learned so much! I wish I lived close to a beach, because I would totally go shelling!
The ocean is a couple of hours away for me, but I love it when I get to go.
I love collecting seashells. These tips are awesome. Especially what not to do. Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you loved these shelling tips. Thanks for reading!
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.
Pawleys Island must be a beautiful place to live. I hope to visit someday!
That shovel with sifter is quite nifty!
It is pretty cool.
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 😉
Shell hunting is really addictive… 🙂
I’ve made a lot of picture frames from the shells we collected from all over the world. You have great tips for getting the best shells.
Making picture frames is a great thing to do with seashells. I love that idea!
Neat! My daughter and I love looking for shells whenever we are at a beach, love the tips in here!
Shelling with your daughter sounds awesome. I’m glad you love the tips.