Where to find seashells by the seashore: Great beaches in California, Texas, Florida, more

There's fine shell hunting on Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island, North Carolina.
Larry Bleiberg
Special to USA TODAY

Summer's almost here, and beachcombers are ready to hunt for treasures washed up on shore.

“You never know what the sea is going to toss at your feet,” says Anna Marlis Burgard, author of "The Beachcomber's Companion" (Chronicle, $16.95; islandsofamerica.com).

She shares some favorite island beaches to find treasures from the sea.

Portsmouth Island

North Carolina

This uninhabited island on the Outer Banks offers a treasure trove of seashells, Burgard says. The holy grail is the Scotch bonnet, which is North Carolina’s state shell. “You have to take boats to get there.” It’s a little easier to visit nearby Ocracoke and Cape Island National Seashore, where the shelling is impressive too.

More informationvisitocracokenc.com

Silver Strand State Beach

Coronado, California

Silver Strand State Beach, located in Coronado, California, offers the Golden State's best seashell hunting ground.

Not far from the grand Hotel Del Coronado on the outer edge of San Diego Bay, this state park offers plenty of beachcombing options, including moon snail shells, pink acorn barnacles and intriguing cone-shaped limpets. “You get a selection. This is one little spot where people go to find shells,” Burgard says.

More informationparks.ca.gov/?page_id=654

Tybee Island


Tybee Island is the go-to destination for seashell hunting on the Georgia coast.

Burgard is particularly devoted to this Atlantic coast beach, where she has lived for the past 10 years. “It’s my favorite island in the United States. It’s funky and small, informal and old-fashioned.” And the shelling is superb. Container ships heading to nearby Savannah stir up the water, making for great finds. “More waves, more shells. That’s just my pet theory.” Her favorite find is baby’s ear, a small, pearly-white shell. “You get a nice variety of color. They’re like worry beads. They’re nice to touch.”

More informationvisittybee.com

Sanibel Island 


The Gulf Coast island near Fort Myers benefits from its east-west orientation. “People think it catches shells differently,” Burgard says.

Shelling is so popular here that locals have coined a name for beachcombers’ posture while they’re on the hunt: "the Sanibel stoop." Some shellers even carry a special scoop to pick up their finds. The Gulf Coast island near Fort Myers benefits from its east-west orientation. “People think it catches shells differently,” Burgard says.

More informationsanibel-captiva.org

Padre Island


Sometimes beachcombers on South Padre Island come across artistic creations by the sea.

For the best shelling in Texas, head north of South Padre’s hotels to find miles of undeveloped beachfront, Burgard says. It’s possible to drive on the beach here, and to sign up for a shell tour. She suggests looking for sea beans (also called drift seeds), which come from tropical plants that float north from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

More informationsopadre.co

Dauphin Island


There's great shelling to be found along the Alabama shore, especially on Dauphin Island, near Gulf Shores.

For shellers, sundials are a tough find. But they regularly turn up on this barrier island’s white sand beaches near the entrance to Mobile Bay, and not far from Fort Morgan and popular Gulf Shores. “It’s one of the few places I hear about people finding them,” Burgard says. But the appeal is much more than the flat disc shells. “It’s a really relaxed island. It’s the kind of place where people go back, their children go and their grandchildren.” 

More information: dauphinislandtourism.com

Lighthouse Beach

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Northern beaches, like those on Martha's Vineyard, tend to feature heavier shells such as the Northern Quahog.

On Martha’s Vineyard, shellers seek the Northern Quahog, sometimes called chowder shells. They were also used to make decorative wampum beads. “The northern beaches have these heavier shells. They don’t have as many highly decorative shells,” Burgard says.

More informationcapecodchamber.org

Lummi Island


Beaded sea star, pebbles and oyster shell close up photo of the Lummi Island's Sunrise Beach.

Although Pacific Northwest beachcombers aren’t as likely to find shells, many treasures still turn up on its shores. “A lot of these beaches are much more pebble-oriented. You can find beautiful ones,” Burgard says. Beachcombers also find sea stars and mussels.

More informationlummi-island.com

Pawleys Island

South Carolina

Shelling is a popular pastime on South Carolina's Pawleys Island.

The shelling’s so popular here that many call the distinctive Imperial Venus clam the Pawleys Island shell. And Burgard loves the area too. “It’s much more a true old beach community where you go because you love being with your family and the pure experience. The waves are pretty gentle.”

More informationpawleysisland.com

Assateague Island

Maryland and Virginia

While hunting for shells on Assateague Island, you may also spot its famed wild ponies.

Home to a Maryland state park and a national seashore, this Atlantic island has plenty of wide-open space to hunt for shells. Highlights include knobbed whelks, jingle shells, scallops and coquinas. Plus there’s also a chance to catch sight of the ponies that live on the island. “There’s just the wildness of it. These are great places to find shells,” Burgard says.

More informationnps.gov/asis and dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/pages/eastern/assateague.aspx