Photograph by Steven Martine, National Geographic Travel
At low tide and following storms, Florida’s beaches offer up a bounty of natural souvenirs, including seashells, sea glass, and sand dollars. While southwest coastal and island locations along the Gulf of Mexico are considered the best for beachcombing, visit beaches throughout the state to collect a varied array of treasures.
Blind Pass, Bowman’s Beach, and Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel Island
Beachcombing is the number one tourist activity on Sanibel and neighboring Captiva Islands, where at least 250 different types of shells have been found. The “best” shelling beaches change daily, but if you try these three locations an hour before and an hour after low tide, you’re likely to discover some huge shell piles during your stay, says local artist Pam Rambo, who blogs about shelling at www.iloveshelling.com. “It’s an adventure each and every time my toes hit the sand on Sanibel, because the changing winds, currents, waves, and tides bring different treasures to explore,” she says. “After a lifetime of shelling, seeing so many shells roll up here in a matter of hours still takes my breath away.”
Jensen Beach, Hutchinson Island
The crown jewel of this beach on Hutchinson Island is its sea glass, multicolored pieces of discarded bottles, jars, and other glass trash that's been turned to treasure by salt water, churning surf, and coarse sand. Frosted sea glass can be found in a wide variety of colors, with brown, green, clear, and white more common, and blue, purple, red, and orange among the rarer finds.
Coral Cove Park, Jupiter Island
Bring a mask and wade or swim out to Coral Cove's limestone boulder reef, where some of Jupiter Island's best shells can be found. Bonus: The reef attracts abundant marine life, such as colorful fish, bottom-dwelling nurse sharks, and baby loggerhead turtles.
Hot Tip: Check each seashell carefully to ensure nothing is living inside. A Florida recreational saltwater fishing license is required to harvest any shell containing a live organism.
Best Bet: Identify the beachcombing treasures you’ve collected using the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum shell guide, or visit the museum itself on Sanibel Island.
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