Shelling is by far one of the best things to do in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. This fun and rather zen activity is a major reason why people are drawn to this gulfside gem.

I have lived by the beach nearly my entire life but had never seen so many seashells in one place. Along the shoreline, it really does look like this.

Seashells on Cayo Costa Island

You can take a responsible amount of seashells home—an amazing and free souvenir. If you have an affinity for seashells or are looking for a peaceful beach vacation, this is your spot. And, did you know that today, June 21, is National Seashell Day?

Where Are The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel?

An open shell on driftwood on a Sanibel Island beach.

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are located on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. Here, the sand is powdery soft and white… that is, if you can see it. Many secluded and even not-so-secluded shorelines are covered in shells.

Sanibel Island is the most famous shelling spot in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. The island is a short drive from Fort Myers airport and connected to the mainland via a causeway over the water. From Sanibel Island, it’s easy to drive to Captiva Island, which is also a sheller’s paradise.

This means that regardless of which Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel hotel you choose, shelling is just a short drive away.

A Unique Geography

The reason why Sanibel Island and Captiva Island beaches in particular are filled with shells is because both are barrier islands that are part of a large plateau in the Gulf of Mexico. A ground level swell pushes shells to this natural “shelf” and on to its beaches largely in tact.

But even on Fort Myers Beach, more shells than one might usually see on a Southern California beach, are waiting in the sand to be collected or admired.

Seashells Through the Ages

What struck me in particular is how seashells are woven into the culture, landscape and history of the entire Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel area. Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are actually made from shells. The Calusa or “Shell Indians” who inhabited the region thousands of years ago used them as tools, jewelry and even created mounds (a visit to Mound House is a must-do) with them to escape flooding. I noticed shells used as mulch in the same way we lay down bark in our gardens in SoCal and, of course, shell prints on clothes, souvenirs and everything in between. Local enthusiasm for seashells is fun to witness.

See also: 10 Things to Do on a Vacation to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

Where to Go Shelling

It’s likely that you’ll stumble upon seashells on any of the beaches here. It’s said that anywhere on Sanibel Island is good for shelling and the same goes for Captiva Island. It is why the “Sanibel Stoop” and “Captiva Crawl” are nicknames for the bent over posture one takes when picking up seashells.

Booking a tour with Captiva Cruises is a great idea should you wish to explore more remote shelling sites like Cayo Costa State Park that are only accessible by boat.

People shelling on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.

The Types of Shells You Might Find

Shells you might find on the beaches include:

  • Conch
  • Junonia (These are rare but if you find one, you’ll be mentioned in the local newspaper.)
  • Lightning Whelk
  • Cockle
  • Scallops
  • Murex
  • Tulip
  • Olive
  • Coquina

Tips for Shelling

Go shelling on Sanibel and Captiva Islands

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I personally think a stop at the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum at the beginning of your trip to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel will help you both appreciate local shells and help you identify them.

Be sure to verify where shelling is and isn’t allowed. For instance, shelling is not permitted at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Go during low tide or early in the morning. A hotel on the beach will make both easier to do on a whim.

Bring a mesh bag that has small holes in it for draining sand and water. Not only are mesh bags easy to swish through water but the bag’s holes provide a clear view of treasures you’ve collected. You can find mesh bags for the beach and shelling in many local shops but they look like this in case you’d like to toss one in your suitcase.

It is against the law to take live shells from the beach. When in doubt, leave it.

You can read this helpful little guide to The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel by Lonely Planet for free online.

Water shoes are a good idea for kids and those who might be sensitive to stepping on broken shells.

Most importantly, have fun!

Have you been shelling on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel?

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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