Shelling on Sanibel Island, FL

One of the beautiful beaches for "shelling" on Sanibel Island in Florida.
One of the beautiful beaches for "shelling" on Sanibel Island in Florida. | Source
Sand dollar found on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Sand dollar found on Sanibel Island, Florida. | Source
Sanibel coquina shells and scallop shells.
Sanibel coquina shells and scallop shells. | Source
Sanibel lighthouse.
Sanibel lighthouse. | Source

Sanibel Island

One of the most pristine places for finding seashells in Florida is none other thanSanibel Island, located just offshore from Ft. Myers, Florida on the Gulf Coast. Just twenty-five to thirty miles northwest of Naples, FL lies the breathtaking and beautiful Sanibel Island. Here on this sub-tropical island are plush, white sandy beaches brimming full of beautiful shells, what I call "the jewels of the gulf." Here, are a wide variety of shells, sand dollars, and sea urchins washed ashore on beaches that are not highly trafficked by people. Although, during the high tourist season, February through April, on Sanibel Island, the beaches are still rather sparsely populated and inhabited. Here, a leisurely walk on the beach can garnish many beautiful and unusual shells that are quite numerous in size and variety.

Sanibel Island is a barrier island which means it is a collection of sand on the leeward side of the Gulf Stream off from the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island. The gulf side beaches are excellent for shelling on both sides of the island. Beaches extend nearly all around the island on every side and each beach is a treasure trove of recently washed up shells from the most recent tide.

The Sanibel Island beaches are literally world renowned for the variety of seashells found there: coquinas, scallops, whelks, sand dollars and other species of both shallow-water and deeper water mollusks.

Remember, mollusks are shells that have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies and are made of hard calcium. People flock to Sanibel Island to hunt and gather these seashells. The reason the beaches of Sanibel Island are so great for shelling is because there are large quantities of seashells that wash up here. As mentioned before, Sanibel Island is a barrier island which has an "east-west orientation" when most other islands are north-south. Therefore, because of the east-west orientation, the island has great white sandy beaches and an abundance of shells.

Sanibel is a large plateau that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico and this plateau acts like a shelf for seashells to gather. And, gather they do. You can see many people on the beach doing what is called the "Sanibel stoop" which is the position of bending down and/or over to look for sea shells. This famous moniker is used quite frequently on Sanibel Island and everyone there has perfected their "Sanibel stoop."

The city of Sanibel makes up the entire island, with most of the city proper at the east end of the island. There are beautiful hotels, resorts, and low-rise condos built on the beaches of Sanibel on the western side of the island and the entire island still retains its quaintness and small town feel. Although traffic is horrendous during the tourist season, the natives and snow birds of the island, mostly use bicycles to traverse around the island.

Sanibel and Captiva formed as one island nearly 6,000 years ago. Today, a short bridge links Sanibel Island to Captiva Island over Blind Pass. Sanibel Island's curved shrimp-like shape forms Tarpon Bay on the north side of the island. The island is linked to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway, originally built in 1963, and recently enlarged in 2000. The Gulf side beaches on both islands are some of the most beautiful in Florida.

Besides seashells, there are a few other things to see on the island. There is the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. It is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the study of shells. They take their sea shells seriously here on Sanibel Island. The wildlife of the island has also been preserved on the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Here are several, miles of walking and bicycle trails through some of the most plush sub-tropical island vegetation and forestation you will ever see.

There is also the Sanibel Lighthouse at Lighthouse Beach, on the east side of the island. Here is a modern lighthouse and nearby a small pier and walking paths through the vegetation between the edge of the beach and the road.

When visiting Sanibel Island, I recommend, at the least, one day shelling at the various island beaches. There is not a bad beach on the island. I also recommend, at least one day bicycling around the island to get acquainted with it. And, I recommend at least a third day, bicycling and/or hiking the trails through the Darling National Wildlife Refuge. If you are a nature lover, there is so much to see and do on this island and the slow pace of the "island life" is wonderful to experience. I could spend weeks and months on Sanibel Island and never be bored.

My seashell collection continues to grow and flourish between the beaches of Naples, FL and Sanibel Island, FL. This is a great place to start your shell collection, because of the beauty and variety of shells found in this area. Naples and Sanibel Island are the best and most abundant places in the entire state to go shelling, bird watching, nature hiking and biking. And the windsurfing isn't bad either!

Several types and varieties of shells found on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Several types and varieties of shells found on Sanibel Island, Florida. | Source

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Comments 20 comments

BWD316 profile image

BWD316 5 years ago from Connecticut

great photos and hub! I've been to Naples a few times and the sand is the same powder white, it's so beautiful. I do hope to make it to Sanible Island some day. Southwest Florida is a paradise. One suggestion for your hub, you do a great job describing the location of the island, to supplement this add a map of the area! voted up, awesome, beautiful, interesting and sharing on Twitter!

Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi Suzette, I could spend hours and hours looking for shells, it's one of my favourite things to do! Unfortunately we don't live near the coast.

How I would love to visit Sanibel Island!

A fabulous hub, really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing and am voting up.

Best wishes Lesley

alocsin profile image

alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

Something to put on my list of activities when I visit Florida. Voting this Up and Useful.

Sarah Bolluyt profile image

Sarah Bolluyt 5 years ago from United States

Sanibel Island is certainly beautiful. I've been to all the places you listed; this is a very informative article with great suggestions for visitors! :)

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

This is a beautiful Hub. Sanibel Island. Even the name is lovely. When we make that Florida trip perhaps we can take a day trip to Sanibel. Thanks for the information Suzette.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

BWD316: HI! And, thank you for stopping by and reading and commenting. Thank you for your map suggestion. Be sure to see Sanibel Island the next time you are in southwest Florida. It has easy access and is beautiful and charming. Truly, the best seashells come from Naples and Sanibel and these places are so close together. The colors of the shells always amaze me.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi MM: I love shell hunting and am in my glory on the beaches of Naples and Sanibel. You must vacation in southwest Florida sometime soon. This is such a beautiful area and it truly is "paradise."

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

alocsin: Yes, this is something to put on your "bucket list." Southwest Florida is beautiful; I think the best part of Florida. Thank you for stopping by and reading and commenting.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Sarah: Glad to hear you have experienced Sanibel Island. It is gorgeous. Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Hyphen: Yes, this is a beautiful place to visit and the shells here are outstanding. There is easy access to the island and the beaches here. This definitely should go on your list of places to see here in southwest Florida. I think you will enjoy it.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

I've been shelling on Sanibel Island many times. It's a beautiful beach. I live in Orlando...just across the state from you. Wonderful hub!

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed this. Yes, we are "neighbors" and I've been to DisneyWorld although it has been many years ago. Thanks for stopping by.

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

We were originally thinking of going to Destin, Fl for our vacation this year, but now I'm thinking that Fort Myers and Sanibel would be a better vacation for our family. The drive is long (about 21 hours for us), but we'd break it up into a 2-day drive and spend the week in paradise! My kids would LOVE the beaches (and so would we)!

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

leahlefler: Thanks so much for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Destin is beautiful also, but 'come on down' to Naples! Depending on the time of year you come you can find good hotel deals down here. It really is beautiful and laid back here, and although there are lots of retirees, there are many people of all ages here and there is lots to do for people of all ages. If you have kids, this town is also kid-friendly. And the beaches truly are beautiful. Sanibel /Captiva are just beautiful islands - very quiet and laid back and wonderful for kids. Most people bike around the island and there are many places to rent bikes down here, or bring your own. There is a lovely shelll museum here, a nature conservatory with great view of flora, fauna and wildlife. This is a great place for kids. The islands, however, are more expensive to stay as everything has to be imported. I wish you the best in your Florida vacation no matter where you go. Have fun!

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

I think we would enjoy Sanibel and Fort Myers more than Destin (though we would enjoy both very much). Our boys are ages 5 and 6, and I noticed there is an Imaginarium in Ft. Myers. It is 19 hours by car to Destin and 21 hours to Ft. Myers, so we might as well go the extra two hours and see some manatees and sea shells!

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

leahlefler: I'm sorry, I just don't know that much about Fort Myers. I do very little there. I just want to warn you though, the Fort Myers beaches allow alcohol on the beaches. Since you have kids, I just want you to be aware of that. Also, though at the Ft. Myers beaches, they put on a great sand sculpting contest which is always fun to see. I wish I knew more about Ft. Myers to help you - you probably know more than I do from your research. I just drive through it to get to Sanibel. Have a wonderful vacation in Florida!

Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 4 years ago from Thailand

Sounds like a beautiful place to visit. Nice souvenirs, if you live in country.

Shared, up, interesting, pinned and tweeted.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

This island is quite beautiful and serene and a great place for a vacation! Glad you enjoyed this article. Thanks for the visit - most appreciated!

Glenda Motsavage profile image

Glenda Motsavage 2 years ago from The Sunshine State

As a Floridian for the past 14 years, sensational Sanibel is my new love. I even begged my hubby to leave me behind! Thanks for bringing back such fond memories.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Glenda: Isn't the island beautiful? And the island life there is so laid back, relaxing and serene to me. And the seashells are to die for. I can see why you would want to be left behind. LOL! I am so please you enjoyed reading this and that it brought back such pleasant memories.

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