Sanibel Island, FL
Best Beaches for Shelling
6 Mile Cypress Preserve,
copyright Lee Island
This world-class shelling destination is easy to get to -- Sanibel Island's connected to Fort Myers by a three-mile causeway, which itself is worth the trip. Your biggest decision will be picking a place to let your little scavengers loose.
Locals say the best beach for shelling is Blind Pass, located between Sanibel and Captiva Islands (on the Captiva side it's known as Turner Beach). But watch the undertow when swimming there. Gulfside Park, with its boardwalk and shade trees, is another favorite. Both beaches have public parking and bathrooms. Go during high and low tide, especially after a winter storm. But remember: It's against the law to collect live shells, and that includes sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins. Make sure the little critter inside is gone (or at least dead) before plopping it onto your pile.
Not sure exactly what you've found on the beach? Bring your collection to The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, the only shell museum in the United States, with huge displays and experts on hand to identify your pickings. If you're visiting in March, check out the Sanibel Shell Fair, where you'll see live shells with creatures still squirming inside, and shell crafts on display.
For a change of pace, take the family to J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies more than half the island. There's a lot of local wildlife here. You may even spot an alligator! Inhabitants include 50 types of reptiles, 291 species of birds, and more than 32 different kinds of mammals. Explore by car, bike, or foot (maps are distributed at the visitor center). Or take a narrated tram, canoe, or kayak tour.
If you plan to stay on Sanibel overnight, be forewarned: Beautiful places don't come without a price; room rates can be expensive during high season.