A Local's Guide to Beachcombing in Southwest Florida
The beaches of Southwest Florida are some of my favorite in the world. They're the beaches I grew up on. I love them not only for nostalgic reasons but also because they are all beautiful and are all a treasure trove for avid beachcombers like myself.
Drumroll, please... Here are my favorite Southwest Florida Shelling Beaches starting with this handy Google Map:
1. Sanibel & Captiva Islands
The beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are what I grew up visiting multiple times a year, as my family lived in nearby Fort Myers. Even though the beaches can seem to be barren of shells due to the huge boom of shell-oriented tourists, it's still the best - especially if you happen to be on Sanibel after a big storm. I highly recommend you get on the beach at sunrise to find the best shells.
For a guide on what to do when visiting Sanibel, check out this post.
What I've Found on Sanibel & Captiva: flat zigzag scallops, fighting conchs, augers, keyhole limpets, urchins, apple murexes, lightning whelks, sand dollars, sea whips, nine armed starfish, quahogs, wentletraps, tulips, cochinas, rough scallops, jingle shells, kitten's paws, sharp ribbed drills, florida cones...
Honestly, back at my parent's house in Virginia, the majority of my seashell collection is from Sanibel. For instance, I have one smallish mason jar full of only juvenile fighting conchs.
2. Marco Island
What I've Found on Marco: fighting conchs, more lightning whelks than I knew what to do with, olives, carrier shells, shark's eyes, nutmegs, worm shells, alphabet cones, sea glass, jewel boxes, jingle shells, bubble shells, eastern oysters, top shells, sunray venuses, apple murexes... So many things. Even one tiny (already dead, promise) starfish.
3. The Ten Thousand Islands
This past June, my grandmother treated me to a two hour shelling tour with Everglades Area Tours. A friend had recommended it to her and boy, were we glad she did. We had an awesome time with our guide, Ed who is a seashell aficionado & excellent boat captain. We met at the Goodland Marina and then Ed took us to uninhabited beaches in the maze that is the Ten Thousand Islands. I was honestly flabbergasted by the amount of shells to be found in the Ten Thousand Islands - each beach seemed to have a shell bank at least three feet deep. And within five minutes of our boat landing on the first beach, I found those four urchins you see above. My one complaint? I wish I'd had more time! I highly recommend a shelling tour with Ed; just make sure you go at low tide.
What I Found: A palm-sized horse conch, little horse conchs, sea urchins, sunray venuses, angel wings, an abundance of worm shells, nutmegs, paper figs, banded tulips, pear whelks, lightning whelks, coral.
4. Don Pedro/Palm Island
That's my fellow seashell-lover and grandmother, Shirley, on the beach at Palm Island. Palm Island is in Charlotte County, in between Manasota Key and Boca Grande. It's mostly a resort island and is accessed by crossing the narrowest strip of water that I've ever been ferried across. General public pays $8 a person to walk onto the ferry. Once on the island, the Gulf beach there is a wonderful spot to walk and beachcomb. I've been there twice, both last June. The first day that I was there, I saw a manatee clear as day about 6 feet from shore. The second day there, I found my favorite shell of all time: the lion's paw in the picture above on the bottom left. It's in perfect condition, not to mention the fact that it's a gorgeous shade of vivid reddish pink. It was just sitting on the wrack line like a mermaid's gift to me. Priceless.
What I've Found: That lion's paw, fighting conchs, hatched sea turtle eggs, shark's teeth, small sea whips, nutmegs, coral, rough scallops, king's crown conch, dusty cones.
5. Cayo Costa State Park
Cayo Costa State Park is a beautiful, serene beach. You can get there by boat or with tours leaving either Captiva or Pine Island. It's a great place to shell and to find live specimens to look at (only empty shells should be taken from any beach).
What I've Found: More sand dollars than I could carry, olives, fighting conchs, whelks.
6. Englewood Beach
In recent years, it seems like the beaches of Englewood on the border of Charlotte and Sarasota Counties are beating out nearby Venice (see below) as the top spot to find shark's teeth. When I visited in 2015, the beach was absolutely full of fossilized shark's teeth. Every few feet, I'd reach down to pick up their black, arrow-like shape glistening in the sand.
What I've Found: Shark's teeth galore, sea whips, augers, scallops, cockles.
7. Venice Beach
Venice Beach in Sarasota County was always the place to find shark's teeth when I was a kid. I can even remember my dad taking my whole family to a shark's tooth & fossil festival there when I was a young teen. In recent years, however, I haven't been able to find handfuls of them like I did when I was younger. The sand does still have thousands of little black bits of worn down shark's teeth... Perhaps, like Sanibel, you've just got to be there on the morning after a storm.
What I've Found: Shark's Teeth, urchins, cockles, scallops, cochina.
There you have it, folks! That concludes my knowledge of where to beachcomb in Southwest Florida. Shout out to my Dad and grandmother for instilling & encouraging a love of beachcombing in me from a young age on the very beaches listed above. Also, one more shout out to my brother Dylan for tolerating my seashell obsession and letting me drag him to the beach when we've gone back to Florida together.