The Beginner’s Guide to Shelling in Southwest Florida

In case you missed it, Sanibel is known as the shelling capital of the world. Located on the Gulf side of Florida is this beachcomber’s paradise. What makes Sanibel so unique? Its beaches are protected by an underwater shelf creating gentle currents that wash ashore some of the most beautiful shells you will ever lay your eyes on. Essentially, these shelves scoop the shells (say that 10x fast) and deliver them to you almost in perfect condition.

People from all around the world come to Sanibel and Captiva specifically to give shelling a go. The current is constantly presenting new shells from the Gulf and the Caribbean.

Best time to shell

Okay so now you’re ready to book the trip to discover hidden treasures of the ocean. Like all destination activities, there is a season to go to experience it to the fullest. For shelling in Sanibel and Captiva Islands, the best month to go is January. Book your excursion according to the tide too! Low tide is when the seashells are more visible. Don’t forget to pay attention to the moon, after all that is what changes the tides! Full and new moons are rumored to produce an abundance of shells. Another good time to go is after a Gulf storm- when the current and the waves are so strong the shells can’t help but be washed to shore.

Ft. Myers

How to shell

Shelling is easy! Bring a bucket, net bag and scoop. Or, if you’re like me, ditch the scoop and just use your hands to uncover hidden gems on the beach. A scoop is better for when you’re shelling in shallow water. Pro tip: wear shoes when shelling. I learned the hard way. Some shells are sharp making it uncomfortable to walk.

Please be conscientious when shelling. Shells are an important part of the ecosystem here, so important that Florida State Law prohibits the shelling of live shells. You may be thinking “but it’s just a shell.” And while yes it is a shell, there might still be a living organism inside. Sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins are also protected under this law.

Sanibel Island

Shell types

Shells come in all shapes and sizes! Keep your expectations low and you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find! There are so many different types of shells you can stumble upon including: Conchs, Lighting Whelk, Scallops, Coquina, and the coveted Junonia. Coveted? Yep. If you find one of these rare, deep-water loving shells you’ll get your name and photograph in the local paper! Unfortunately, I didn’t find one of these. But I did find conchs, mollusks and so many other kinds of shells!

Fun fact: seashells come in two types: gastropod and bivalve. The gastropods are categorized by having on sell, these are conchs and whelks. Bivavlves have two hinged shells that act as doors or walls to protect the organism, these are clams and scallops.

Florida Fighting Conch

Cayo CostaAn assortment of mollusks and conchs!

Cayo Costa

Shelling locations

Fort Myers Beach
Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel
Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel
Captiva Beach
Cayo Costa


This post is written in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel however, as always, all opinions are my own.

6 Things to Do in Fort Myers and Sanibel

Some people think they know Southwest Florida, but you don’t really know Southwest Florida until you’ve visited. There is so much more to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island than you think. It is more than the boardwalk and the college Spring Break spot. There is history, delicious food and some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. So let’s leave the boardwalk, 65+ community and spring breakers behind.

Take a cruise

What is a trip to Florida without getting out on the open ocean? Not any trip I want to be on! Captiva Cruises, leaves from South Seas Island Resort and McCarthy’s Marina (on Sanibel). The company offers a variety of cruise types, from scheduled cruises to group outings and even private charters! Around for over 30 years, no wonder they’re the leader in the ecotourism industry in Florida.

I took a cruise which departed from McCarthy’s Marina, about a half hour from my hotel, the Pink Shell Resort and Marina. Fun fact: the water is only 5 feet deep in the marina area so before getting out to the open ocean it’s a slow start. Take that time to acquaint yourself with the vessel and get comfortable. Relax! You’re on the ocean.

Depending on your vessels destination, you’ll cruise by Captiva Island and North Captiva Island, in this case we were going to Cayo Costa. Along the way we were greeted by Flipper. Yep, actual, real life, dolphins. I had never been so excited to see a wild animal in my life. Perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it. That’s the best I think, when you least expect something. Sure, I knew dolphins swam in the waters of Florida just like I knew kangaroos lived in Australia when I visited. Did I see a single kangaroo during the month I was there? Sure DIDN’T! Learned my lesson. Anyways…

Cayo Costa

The water is so blue you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean. Better yet, when you get to Cayo Costa, a Florida state park, you will feel like you are in paradise. That’s because you are. This island is completely deserted, not a soul lives on it. You can camp on it but have to make reservations 11 months in advance! If you’re on a day trip like I was spend the day walking the beach, swimming, snorkeling, sun bathing and shelling! Word to the wise, don’t forget bug spray. 

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

The tenth most visited estate home in the US! I let my inner history nerd out here. My eyes were first drawn to the lush grounds and all of the flowers that surrounded me. The floral aromas, sounds of the birds chirping, and the sounds of the waves… ahhh relaxation with a side of history. The grounds are home to Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory which is replicated perfectly so that IF Edison was to come back he would be able to pick right up and continue his research. A few of Fords original cars are also here.

The Edison Ford Museum is home to a collection of inventions – by both Edison and Ford. I think my favorite part was listening to the music play out of the phonographs. I am a huge music lover- never not listening to music actually-  so I thought it was really cool to see how recorded music was originally played back. Again, I know, I’m a nerd!

Edison Ford Estate

Cabbage Key

A classic Southwest Florida stop. Cabbage Key is a 100-acre aquatic preserve filled with lush vegetation and a historic inn, Cabbage Key Inn. This secluded island offers a laid back vibe with total relaxation. Did I mention it is only accessible by boat?

There are cottages and rooms to rent on the island. Whether it’s a romantic getaway you’re seeking or a fishing trip, Cabbage Key Inn is the spot to be. If you don’t have the chance to spend time on the island, at least make time to eat at Cabbage Key Restaurant. You might know it better as, “the bar with all the money on the walls.” It’s rumored that this is the restaurant that Jimmy Buffet wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about. You’ll see why when you get there.

Cabbage Key

Take Flight (with brews!)

Fort Myers Brewing Company is the perfect spot to escape the summer sun in Southwest Florida. This was the first local brewery in the area, 5 years strong now! Not sure which beer to start with? Go with the High Five, voted Best IPA in Florida! They also have unique brews like Chocolate Stout, Sister Hazelnut, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Expect: live music, food trucks and good company. What else could you need? You can find them in 250 spots locally and know when you’re buying them from a store the brews are no more than 10 days old- that’s fresh.

Fort Myers Brewing Company

Sanibel Island Light

About 20 minutes from Pink Shell Resort. This isn’t your typical lighthouse, meaning it doesn’t look like the New England lighthouses I know so well.

Make a day out of it. Grab breakfast a bit further down the road at Island Cow and then head to Sanibel Island Light. Things you’ll need: sunscreen, water and a beach towel! Oh, and a swimsuit of course. You can lounge on the beach, watch people fish on the small pier and check out the history of the lighthouse.

Note: It’s about $2-$4/hr to park and it is strictly enforced.

Sanibel Island Ligh

Go Shelling

This is a MUST. From Fort Myers to Sanibel the shells are endless. Shell capital of the world status. Literally. Every morning I would walk down to the beach and discover freshly washed up shells, untouched by anyone else. Begging for my (and my cameras) attention. Whether you are on Cayo Costa or just wandering the beach in front of your hotel, don’t forget to look down! I’ve never seen such beautiful shells before- ever. Thailand has nothing on you Fort Myers and Sanibel!

Shelling Cayo Costa

This post is written in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel however, as always, all opinions are my own.