Is there a simpler summertime pleasure than strolling a beach to collect the shelled treasures that wash ashore? Well, only eating ice cream in bare feet, perhaps, though those can go hand in hand. Follow our lead for the best beaches for beachcombing across the USA and get ready to fill your buckets with sand dollars, shark’s teeth, sea glass and more.
Mocrocks Beach, Wash.
Long, oval-shaped shells that glisten with a beautiful purplish color inside await foragers at this small but scenic beach about a 2.5-hour drive west of Seattle. Pacific razor clams are the beachcombing treasure at Mocrocks Beach, which lies just south of the richly forested Quinault Indian Reservation in some of Washington’s most spectacular coastal woodlands. Spend your days strolling the beach to amass the clamshells and abundant sand dollars, too. Then retreat to one of the 25 rustic cabins at the oceanfront Iron Springs Resort (they feel like private beach houses) for a fun family stay.
Ocean Beach, Calif.
Known for its deadly riptides, this urban San Francisco beach is hardly the most swimmer-friendly. But if you’re looking for a shoreline guaranteed to deliver treasures, then Ocean Beach is a top Northern California bet. The elegant Dendraster excentricus variety of sand dollars are particularly prevalent along the long, sweeping beach here. The best time to look for them is at low tide in the 48 hours following a storm.
Block Island, R.I.
There are sandy shores here, but the stony beaches of Block Island offer the best shelling opportunities for those looking to fill their buckets to the brim. It’s a one-hour ferry ride from Narragansett on the mainland to this island located just 12 miles offshore of Rhode Island and to the northeast of Long Island, N.Y. Look for giant scallop shells, sea glass and sand dollars. And after a big storm, join the locals scavenging for Native American artifacts that are sometimes unearthed by the waves (Narragansett Indians were the island’s first inhabitants).
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, Calif.
Hunt but don’t take it with you is the rule at the famous Glass Beach at MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg on California’s gorgeous Mendocino Coast. From 1906 to 1967, when the area was home to a city dump, all manner of trash was disposed of with a shove off the cliffs here. And some of that detritus has been refashioned into wave-smoothed pieces of colorful glass. Rare red glass said to come from the taillights of pre-1967 cars and blue fragments from apothecary bottles are the most sought after specimens. Take a photo to prove you found them, then bid them adieu with a more ceremonious toss back into the sea.
Delaware Seashore State Park, Del.
The Delaware Seashore State Park in Rehoboth (between popular Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach) delivers for those in search of seashells during the off season months (fall and winter), in particular. But you can source plenty of great finds here during summertime, too – especially after a storm surge carves away part of the dunes, revealing shells and sea glass that may have been covered for quite some time. Look for little pieces of perfection in the form of channeled whelks, moon snails, scallops and angel wings. Rare pieces of red sea glass also occasionally wash ashore.
Keewaydin Island, Fla.
Exploring the miles of undeveloped shoreline fringing Keewaydin Island in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Naples feels like opening a Pandora’s box of shell delights. You’ll need a boat (they can be rented in Naples) to reach Keewaydin Island, where starfish, sand dollars, horseshoe crab shells and urchins and mollusks of all sorts litter sand as fine as powdered sugar. There are no restaurants or any other commercial outposts on the island, so pack a cooler full of your favorite treats to make the most of your day in this paradise hidden right in plain view.
Johnson Beach, Perdido Key, Fla.
Part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, located on Perdido Key near Pensacola in Florida’s Panhandle, Johnson Beach is the place to scavenge for such treasures as sunray venus clams, pen shells, cockles, conch and more. So fertile is the shelling beach here that local collectors try to keep this scenic stretch of sugar-fine sand to themselves. You’ll find them particularly out en masse – bent over and eyes glues to the sand – during low tide and especially after one of the impressive gulf storms, when the most shells wash ashore.
Sanibel and Captiva, Fla.
Sanibel and Captiva, sister islands off the southwest coast of Florida, are probably the most famous spots for shelling in the USA. After all, the term “Sanibel stoop” – which refers to the position shell-seekers assume when they’re in the zone – was coined on the bright white shores here. You’ll find fabulous shells all year long on Sanibel and Captiva. But December and onward – once the storm season has passed and tides have brought in new shells from the ocean – offer particularly rich pickings. Hotels like the South Seas Island Resort even go so far as to offer “Shelling Concierge” services to their guests, providing insider tips on where to hunt for the most coveted shells.
Atlantic Beach, Fla.
A true Florida secret, the quaint community of Atlantic Beach – just east of downtown Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic Coast – is a wonderful spot for many reasons. There’s the stylish oceanfront One Ocean Resort & Spa, just steps from all manner of independent shops and restaurants set just back from the beach. And north of here, residential beaches stretch for miles with no high rises in sight. You have to look hard, but shark’s teeth litter the sands in this part of Florida. Look for their black, triangular shapes in the shallow pools of water left near the waterline as the tide retreats to its lowest point of the day.
Holly Beach, La.
The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road in Lake Charles, La., is home to more than 26 miles of pretty beaches, most of which are undeveloped and offer perfect opportunities for shelling. Rutherford Beach, Holly Beach and the sparsely inhabited sands to the west are among your best bets for happening on natural beauties such as whelks, periwinkles, Florida fighting conch, angel wings and highly coveted wentletraps. You can thank deposits from the southeast tidal flow that wash ashore on the beaches of the Creole Nature Trail for the abundant treasures here.