The Ultimate Ocean Isle Beach Shelling & Identification Guide

Ocean Isle Beach Shelling in NC

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Looking for a shelling paradise?

I recently had a great time shelling on Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina and found some amazing shells. (See picture below.) I’m excited to share my tips for having a successful shelling trip there.

In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about finding the best shells and how to identify them.

And I’ll even tell you where my secret shelling spot is on the island. I read about it by scouring online forums.

So pack your sunscreen and get ready to head to Ocean Isle Beach for a fantastic shelling adventure!

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Seashells I found at Ocean Isle Beach in NC
Some of the seashells I found at Ocean Isle Beach in NC

1 – Where is Ocean Isle Beach?

Ocean Isle Beach is located on the south end of the North Carolina Coast. It’s about an hour’s drive from either Wilmington or Myrtle Beach.

It took me about 3 hours to drive there from the Raleigh area.

2 – What is Ocean Isle Beach like?

Ocean Isle Beach is a beautiful spot with white sandy beaches and beautiful blue waters. There are no lifeguards, probably because the beach isn’t very crowded.

It was clean and quiet when I visited, with lots of shells to be found.

Ocean Isle isn’t far from Myrtle Beach but lacks the commercialism and crowds.

It’s fairly easy to find parking and public beach access along Ocean Isle Beach. If you drive along the road that runs parallel to the coastline you’ll find several free parking lots and beach access points.

Many of the public beach access points also have showers to wash the sand off.

Ocean Isle Beach Community Center has free parking, public restrooms, outdoor showers, and a shelter with picnic tables.

The address of the Community Center is 44 E 1st St, Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469.

There is also paid parking at the pier. It was $10 a car when I visited.

Ocean Isle Beach NC Pier
Pier at Ocean Isle Beach in NC

3 – Where is the best spot to find seashells on Ocean Isle Beach?

There are plenty of shells along the entire length of Ocean Isle Beach, but the secret spot is the east end. This is where the inlet meets the ocean, and there are lots of shells to be found.

The inlet is called Shallotte Inlet, and you’ll have to walk about 15 minutes to get to it.

Just park your car in the easternmost parking lot and walk from there. I was able to park at East 3rd Street near Shallotte Blvd and walk east to the inlet.

If that parking lot is full, there are plenty of other free parking lots on the island.

The water in the inlet is calm, and it’s easy to wade in the water to find shells.

And the visibility in the inlet is impressive. I could clearly see the seashells through the water.

I had so much fun scooping up handfuls of seashells, looking for treasures.

(Ok, I freaked out a bit when I picked up a large whelk that still had the snell in it. I quickly threw it back, of course! Never take a live shell from its habitat.)

I would highly recommend bringing a snorkel and mask because of how excellent the visibility is and the calmness of the water.

I plan to come back to the east end of Ocean Isle Beach to spend the day with a good book, snacks, and of course, my shelling gear!

Ocean Isle Beach, NC best shelling spot
East end of Ocean Isle Beach in NC.
The calm, clear waters of Shallotte Inlet (the east end of Ocean Isle Beach).

(Update – I visited again when it was a bit windy and visibility probably wouldn’t have been good enough to snorkel. So it will just depend on the weather when you are there. The inlet was also more crowded when I visited on a weekend, but there was still PLENTY of wide-open beach to enjoy.)

4 – What time of day should you look for seashells?

The best time to go shelling is when the tide is low. See my complete guide on how to find seashells HERE!

Check the local tide chart and plan to shell an hour before low tide to an hour after.

I like to go shelling in the morning because it’s not as hot and there are fewer people on the beach. This means you’ll find the shell treasures first!

If you get a chance to go shelling after a storm, take it. This is when you’ll find the best shelling.

The strong currents from the storm will wash up seashells onto the beach. Just be aware of any dangerous conditions if you plan to get in the water. Riptides are more likely on the calm days after a storm.

Whelk shell that I found at low tide on Ocean Isle Beach.

5 – What time of year should you look for seashells on Ocean Isle Beach?

The best shelling can be in the fall and winter. There are fewer people on the beach, and storms have brought larger shells to the shore.

(I visited in the Spring and found plenty of shells, though.)

It can be chilly visiting NC beaches in the fall and winter, so bundle up. It will be worth it, though. The shelling will be fantastic, and our beaches are gorgeous year-round.

If you go in the winter, consider wearing scuba boots so you can wade into the water without getting your feet cold and wet.

Scuba boots
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6 – What tools should I bring to collect seashells?

All you really need is something to carry your shells in and your hands. 😁 But the following will make your shelling experience so much better:

  • Shelling Bag – This is the #1 most important thing to me. You wear it over your shoulder to keep your hands free to collect shells. It makes it easy to store your shells while you walk the beach.

Sea Shelling Bag
My favorite shelling bag
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  • Sand Dipper – Use this to search through the sand and water for shark teeth or shells. The long handle keeps you from having to bend over. You can adjust the length and even take it apart to fit in a suitcase.
  • Sand Flea Rake – This is an excellent tool for shelling in the water. It scoops up multiple shells below the water’s surface. You can then dump the shells on the beach and look for treasures.

Sand Flea Rake For Shell Hunting
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Seashells of Georgia & the Carolinas
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  • Polarized Sunglasses – These will cut the glare on the water and help you see what’s below the water’s surface more clearly.

7 – What shells can I find at Ocean Isle Beach in NC?

Below is a short identification guide for the shells you can find on Ocean Isle Beach.

For a more comprehensive identification seashell guide, check out this post.

Scotch Bonnet Beach Shell
Scotch Bonnet
Auger Spiral Shell
Auger Spiral Shell
Lettered Olive Shell from different types of seashells
Lettered Olive Shell
Irish Baking Scallop Shell
Scallop Shell
Shark's Eye Moon Shell - Shelling Guide
Moon Snail
Pink Mouthed Murex Shell Guide
Murex Shell
Lightning Whelk Shell Types of Seashells
Lightning Whelk Shell
Sand Dollar Shell Hunting Guide
Sand Dollar

The above shells are just a few of the treasures you can find on Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina. Click the button below to get a free seashell identification chart.

So there you go!

Now you know everything you need to about shelling on Ocean Isle Beach. Let me know in the comments your favorite place to go shelling and happy hunting!

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Ocean Isle Beach Shelling Pinterest Pin


21 Responses

  1. Ocean Isle Beach is gorgeous and the perfect destination for shelling. Love your shell identification guide…so many varieties!

  2. Wow! Ive never heard of Ocean Isle Beach. This looks amazing! I love finding shells, but I never really know what they are! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ocean Isle looks phenomenal! Those shells are incredible as well. We have not been to this part of North Carolina but will now! Thank you for sharing.

    1. I loved Ocean Isle Beach so much, that I went back again a couple of days ago with my daughter. And she’s already asking to go back…

  4. WOW! The amount of shells on Ocean Isle beach is amazing! Shelling is so fun and this is a great shelling guide. Thanks!

  5. I have never been to this part of the country but hope to visit some day. Ocean Isle beach and shelling there sounds wonderful. Thank you.

  6. What a great guide to shelling. I love collecting a few shells as momentos from my trips. I try not to take too many though bc I know a lot of little crabs and creatures like to make homes out of old shells. All about that balance.

  7. I love searching for shells on the beach. I haven’t spent a lot of time in North Carolina, mainly the mountains. But spending more time near the coast of North Carolina is one of my goals. I love your shell pictures!

    1. The mountains and the beach in North Carolina are both so beautiful. I hope you get to spend time at one of NC’s beautiful beaches soon!

  8. I grow-up close to the east coat and I love being able to go to the beach. However, I had no idea how many different seashell there was. This is a great and fun guide for a family activity.

  9. What a wonderful collection of shells you found! Sounds like the perfect beach for shelling. And I love the handy guide.

  10. I have always loved finding shells on the beach since I was little. Now my kids love it too! I love all the different variety of shells there are at Ocean Isle Beach! Definitely hoping to make it there someday

  11. I love collecting shells for my granddaughter. I’m sure she will find the shelling identification guide really helpful.

    1. Shelling is such a great family activity! That’s wonderful that you do that with your granddaughter.

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