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10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Rosemoon Mecho

Ocracoke Island, NC

Why Go: The island attracts only those willing to drive the length of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, so Ocracoke’s wild and unsullied beaches are sparsely populated, even at the height of summer. (Schedule a spring or fall visit and you’ll have the beach and its bounty to yourself.) At North Point, you’ll find everything from tiny, butterfly-like coquinas to Scotch bonnets. Go mornings after big squalls—especially nor’easters—for the most exciting finds.

What You’ll Find: Olives, sand dollars, whelks, baby’s ears, and cowry helmets.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Peter Essick/Aurora

Sanibel Island, FL

Why Go: This shellers’ mecca attributes its bounty to a wide continental shelf. Bend over in a “Sanibel stoop” to hunt for the coveted junonia (a twisted cone shell with markings like a giraffe’s spots): find one and you’ll get your picture in the local papers. For the best pickings on this Manhattan-size island, head up to Bowman’s Beach, on the northern end of the Gulf-facing beaches almost to Captiva Island. Rainy day? Get your daily mollusk fix at the island’s Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.

What You’ll Find: Coquinas, scallops, whelks, and sand dollars.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

2008 bellavistaimages.com

Point No Point Beach
Hansville, WA

Why Go: Point No Point, in Hansville, offers great shelling with a view. Puget Sound’s oldest lighthouse watches over the evergreen-lined coast, and with just a brief interruption of your sand-ward gaze, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier or a passing whale. The U.S. Lighthouse Society rents out the lighthouse keeper’s house to visitors, so you can stay overnight in comfortable quarters (with no labor involved—the lighthouse was automated in 1977) and get up for first crack on low-tide goodies.

What You’ll Find: Dogwinkles, limpets, and geoducks—the world’s biggest burrowing clams.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Kevin King

Gulf Islands National Seashore
Pensacola, FL

Why Go: Just offshore from the busy beach towns along the Florida Panhandle, these narrow barrier islands are spectacularly beautiful and wild. After big storms, the blindingly white sands reveal a treasure exclusive to this region: hurricane balls. These egg-shaped finds are created by the motion of the waves during a Gulf Coast storm: straw, palmetto grass, and seaweed wrap tightly around a core object like a shell or small stone and are tossed up onto the sand. But even if the weather’s fine, you won’t come away empty-handed—prehistoric shell middens left by early settlers indicate that beachcombing these narrow strips of sand has always been a fruitful endeavor.

What You’ll Find: Comb bittersweets, coquinas, ceriths, common nutmegs, alphabet cones, lucinas, sand dollars, and augers.

—Ann Shields

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

iStock

Shipwreck Beach
Lanai, HI

Why Go: You never know what you’ll find at Shipwreck Beach, on the island of Lanai. The same brisk trade winds and strong currents that make the waters dangerous for swimming also churn up flotsam and jetsam—and intrepid beachcombers. Accessible only on foot or by four-wheel-drive vehicles, the eight-mile-long beach—with views of Molokai across the channel—is littered with treasure, both natural and man-made.

What You’ll Find: Coral, violet snails, leopard cones, imperial cones, sea slug shells, textile cones (whose cross-hatched pattern of browns is clearly echoed in Polynesian fabric designs), and even on rare occasions, blown-glass floats from Japanese fishing nets.

—Ann Shields

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Meghan Lamb

Cumberland Island, GA

Why Go: Take the ferry out to gloriously deserted Cumberland Island and return with a robber baron’s hoard of sand dollars. Rent a bike from the park rangers and head south from the ferry landing to Dungeness Beach, where the best shells wash ashore. If the sun grows too intense on the sand, hop on your bike and visit the picturesque ruins of the Gilded Age mansion built by real robber barons, the Carnegies.

What You’ll Find: Coquinas, disc clams, augers, shark teeth, olives, heart cockles, ark shells, and moon snails.

—Ann Shields

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Stephanie Conrad

Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Why Go: Besides their dramatic beauty, this string of beaches just north of San Francisco shows collectors shells in a different light. An hour before and after low tide, the ocean ebbs to reveal tide pools along the shore that teem with sea stars, urchins, and black turbans. Admire them, photograph them, but don’t touch them: most are too delicate, and some are poisonous to humans. (And don’t worry—there are plenty of uninhabited shells to collect.) Wear waterproof shoes and hike down to the park’s Sculptured Beach for the best tide-pool viewing and shelling.

What You’ll Find: Sand dollars, olives, ocher stars, mossy chitons, razor clamshells, and goose barnacle.

—Ann Shields

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

H G Mukhopadhyay

San Jose Island, TX

Why Go: The long, car-free stretches of barrier islands along Texas’s Gulf Coast invite peaceful solitude, and the farther you get from the ferry dock on this 21-mile-long isle, the better the pickings. (Our suggestion: rent a bike with fat tires on the mainland and catch the first boat of the morning.) Camping overnight? Look for phosphorescent plankton in the tide pools after dark.

What You’ll Find: Sundials, shark’s eyes, and caramel-rippled lightning whelks the size of your fist.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

<center>10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches </center>

Courtesy of California State Parks, 2009

Silver Strand State Beach
Coronado Island, CA

Why Go: Named for its shimmering oyster-strewn shore, this popular and easily accessible stretch of beach on Coronado is also scattered with more enticing shells. A pedestrian tunnel under the road connects bay and ocean sides of the thin strip of beach, but the best shells are served up by the long, gentle rolling surf on the ocean side. Hotel del Coronado, a coral-red-roofed classic resort, is just a wave away (and its spa offers several face and body treatments that involve the application of gently heated, smooth shells).

What You’ll Find: Sand dollars, cockles, limpets, and scallops.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches

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