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Best shelling beaches to gather shells for your home collection or crafts. After storms the shelling everywhere is often excellent for sometime.
Public access beaches on Sanibel charge $2.00 per hour. There are machines in the lot where you buy buy parking time and it will dispense a ticket that you place on your dash where it can be seen. No change and they do take VISA and MasterCard. The police do check cars in season and parking tickets are given out. There are RV spaces at Tarpon Bay Road Beach parking and it is possible to find a spot at the Lighthouse Beach, but there are no designated spaces there.
Use the link above to find an interactive map of Sanibel. You can use the 'Attractions' option on that site to find most of the beaches named below. This will help orient first time visitors. Since it is a bike path map, Captiva Island, Lover's Key and the Causeway beaches are not shown.
This is a great shelling beach once again. The pass has been open for some while now with parking on both the Sanibel and Captiva sides. Both have very limited spaces and the Sanibel sides has many spots reserved for residents with certain passes only. Be aware, these lots are patrolled, so be sure you have your pre-paid parking tag showing, especially around noon and sunsets. You will get a ticket! Both sides are outstanding sunset locations, but I prefer the Captiva side for that. The Sanibel side seems better for shelling. Keep walking south along the beach to escape the crowds. Lots of shells collect where the pass cuts from Gulf to bay. Use care as the currents can be strong during tide changes and certain fish will hang out there just waiting for smaller fish - AKA 'dinner' - to come through. Also, as a very popular fishing spot, watch out for what gets attracted by the bait. Sharks like to hang out by passes, especially in the evening if the tides are changing.
On the very east tip of Sanibel, this beach runs east west and collects shells from both the Gulf and San Carlos Bay area so you can get a wider selection. This public access beach is very popular with locals and day trippers as well as visitors. There are some dangerous rip tides in the area, so be careful if you walk out, but the water is shallow and warm for the most part and shelling is fair to great depending on the winds. The pier is a very popular fishing spot and the Lighthouse is a scenic backdrop. Walking trail. Good spot for miniature shells. Big parking lot.
Located mid way between the Causeway entrance to Sanibel and Captiva Island, Bowman's Beach used to be one of the less visited beaches, but the word is out and it's become bust much of the year. With over 200 parking spaces, it also has the largest capacity. There are picnic facilities and restrooms, but they are a long walk from the beach near the parking area. Many of the pines that had lined the beach and shaded the parking area are now gone, but Bowman's was a wide beach until winter storms narrowed it substantially. There is only limited development in the area, so there are fewer people looking for shells - usually. When you hit the beach, turn right and keep walking away from any crowd.
Some folks will take advantage of the privacy of some areas of this beach to do a little topless or nude sunbathing. The police actively discourage this as it is against the law. Sanibel/Captiva beaches are very modest places.
On Tarpon Bay Road just up from where it meets West Gulf Drive is the parking lot for the beach access near the Pointe Santo Condo complex. The restrooms are near West Gulf Road and you'll walk between two condo complexes to reach the beach. This area can be a bit more crowded in season when the condos are full, so there is more competition for shells. I find the above beaches better. This beach parking area has designated RV parking.
This mid-island beach is off Casa Ybel and Algier's and not visited as much as others. There are picnic tables off the beach and a good sized parking lot. Access is just a short walk over a boardwalk from the lot to the beach. This area of the beach has rather limited condo development so it is much less crowded than the Tarpon Bay Beach area just a short distance away. Worth finding this beach a little off the usual tourist path.
Captiva Island is mostly private homes, two resorts, a B&B and a few small condo and cottages. As the beach is lined with private property, public access is limited to the Blind Pass area above and one small lot at the end of Captiva Drive beyond the village area and past South Seas Resort entrance. This area is nestled between the houses on private lanes in the village and beach condos of South Seas. In the winter when the resort and houses are full, competition for the shells can be pretty stiff and the shelling doesn't seem to be a good as it is at Blind Pass. You can walk to the resort entrance where Chadwick Square has gourmet shop sells rather pricey sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Some restroom facilities at the beach area. This is the only other public beach parking access on Captiva. There is parking available at McCarthy's for a daily fee and you can walk down Andy Rosse Lane to the beach, but you need to need to be a customer of Captiva Cruises or Captiva Canoe and Kayak to park there in season. They can be a bit more flexible off season.
The beach along Middle Gulf Drive, from about the Shorewood to Ocean's Reach condos, has often been an excellent area to find shells. There is no public parking and access is almost all by deeded beach access. If you stay along this stretch you can usually find beach access when staying off the Gulf. There are access points at the foot of Fulgar and Nerita and several other streets where you can get to the beach if you're riding bikes or walking. Off season, some folks will use the condo parking lots and gain access that way, but in-season some have guards, and it is ALWAYS a parking violation.
There are great sandbars all along these beaches, so low tide, walk out and you can find a LOT of shells using some patience and a net or snorkel mask in calm weather.
There are a series of small lots along West Gulf Drive that permit parking for cars with special passes ONLY. These are deeded beach access points and can be used by visitors, but don't attempt to park there unless you have the "A" parking permit issued by the City of Sanibel. There are bike racks, no permits required. These access points are used mostly by people staying in private homes off West Gulf Drive in East Rocks, West Rocks, Lake Murex and other subdivisions across the street from the Gulf. This stretch of the beach has only a few condos and a couple of cottage/inn type places and is very quiet.
North Captiva is a separate island just north of Captiva Island that can be reached only by boat. A large section of the island is undeveloped and the shelling is very good. You can hire a charter captain [that's what I do] and they can take you directly to the south end (mostly conservation land and just a few modest private homes) of the island's beach, rent a boat at one of the marinas below that offer water taxis and take yourself [I only recommend this if you are an experienced boater as the waters are very shallow] or take a water taxi from Jensen's, Tween Waters Inn or McCarthy's and get dropped off at the North Captiva Club and walk over to the beach and then down. Most houses are all on the north end. The beach away from the houses has only boaters and shelling is good to excellent. You can find sand dollars here. I don't find them much on Sanibel or Captiva. The water is clearer here than on Sanibel, where its murky from the sand, so you can snorkel. No facilities away from the developed north end area. Restaurants bayside by the Club entrance.
For help with a charter captain, go to the Chamber of Commerce website above or stop at the Visitor Center for a list. Almost all of the captain's do shelling trips. In season, and during tarpon season in the summer, do make reservation in advance as the captain's get quite busy with half and full day trips.
Cayo Costa State Park can be reached by water taxi, private charter or via Captiva Cruises. The beach here seems to have softer sand than Sanibel and the water is clear enough for snorkeling - though you'll mostly see bait fish and some manta rays. There are no colorful reef fish along these islands - and no natural reefs off beaches. [There are some man made reefs off Sanibel that can be visited via boat and are OK for divers, but nowhere as good as those you'll find off the Keys.] The water is shallow and warm. If you enter the park by the visitor center, you have to walk across the island to the beach area and move south to the best shelling areas. If you go by private charter, the captains have access to docks away from the visitor center and again you'll walk across a very narrow strip to the beach. Use insect repellant as the mangroves can be full of no-see-ums. There is NO shade on this beach, so wear a hat and bring plenty of water or sports drinks to keep hydrated. [That's good advice on any beach] This is where I have found some of my largest shells. Snorkeling will show you some large, half buried shells and the beach is the one most likely to have sand dollars. Beautiful place and excellent shelling in season and good shelling off season. No facilities away from the park entrance. Be sure to protect yourself from the sun.
You'll have to go back across the bridge and turn south through Fort Myers Beach to drive to Lover's Key State Park. Lover's Key can be busy in season as folks look for an alternative to busy Fort Myers Beach. It is a lovely spot, has concessions for canoe, kayak, bike and boat rentals, picnic areas, food and ice cream concessions, restrooms and a tram or boardwalk from the paved lot to the beach areas. Wildlife and shelling are good, but the shelling is no match compared with Sanibel, Captiva or the other islands above. The sand is beautiful and soft. Popular with European visitors. It does have all you could want and its worth a visit, even with the hassle of crossing the causeway. In season, getting through Fort Myers Beach by car is a nightmare, so look for alternate routes or wait and do the park off season. Entrance fees are per car. For current fee schedule, go to the website above.
As you come across the Causeway you'll see several man-made island with random parking. Most have picnic and restroom facilities. These little islands are popular as there are no parking fees and the fishing is pretty good. I have tried shelling here and it's so-so, but they are good for sail boarding and fishing and you'll see plenty of both. With the new fixed bridge construction, these locations may not be desirable stops or may be restricted. Great bay views and boat watching.