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Shelling in Key West & The Florida Keys – Where To Go Shelling

Wondering if you can go shelling in Key West and the Florida Keys? You’re in the right place.

Florida is a super popular shelling and beachcombing location but can you go shelling in Key West?

Let’s find out…

Can You Go Shelling in Key West?

I’ll start off by saying that there isn’t much opportunity for shelling in Key West at all.

There are actually very few shells on the beaches in Key West.

If you’re lucky you may be able to find some broken pieces of coral on the beaches but not many shells at all.

The odd seashell does show up on the beach every now and again though so the chances definitely aren’t zero.

For the best chance of finding seashells in Key West, I’d suggest looking in and around the water as this is where you are most likely to find seashells.

Try snorkeling around the rocks and eelgrass beds to find empty shells. You actually have a pretty decent chance of finding shells in Key West if you go snorkeling or diving.

If you do happen to find any seashells in Key West then you can keep them. It is not illegal to take seashells from Key West beaches such as Higgs Beach or Smathers Beach.

Shelling in the Florida Keys

There also isn’t much opportunity at all for shelling in the Florida Keys as a whole.

The beaches in the Florida Keys don’t get many seashells due to the large reef that is present.

Additionally, many of the beaches are man made.

As with Key West, you have a decent chance of finding seashells in the Florida Keys if you go snorkeling or diving but you’ll struggle to find many shells on the beaches. 

Whilst seashells don’t usually wash up on the shore, they can be found in the ocean.

Best Shelling Beaches in Florida

Whilst shelling in Key West isn’t really a thing, Florida as a whole is actually one of the world’s best shelling locations.

If you really want to do some shelling then these Florida locations may suit you better.

1. Ten Thousand Islands

One of the best places for shelling in Florida is at the Ten Thousand Islands which is a series of tiny islands that are clustered together just off the coast of southern Florida.

Map showing the location of the Ten Thousand Islands

This area is a lot quieter than other popular shelling beaches in Florida so you’ll be able to get some peace and quiet whilst searching for seashells.

You’ll be able to find a wide variety of shells here including rare junonia shells.

Bear in mind that it is very difficult to navigate these tiny islands on your own so you are best off joining this shelling tour which will transport you between the islands.

These are the best rated shelling tours available at the Ten Thousand Islands:

2. Sanibel Island

Another one of the best places to go shelling in Florida is on Sanibel Island which is located near Fort Myers.

Map showing location of Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is a very famous shelling destination meaning it can get very crowded however there are always plenty of shells to be found.

Sanibel Island itself is a curved shape which acts like a net and catches the seashells that come from the currents of the Gulf of Mexico.

The most common shells you’ll find here are coquinas, false angel wings, conchs, junonia shells, murexes, tulip shells and sand dollars.

3. Marco Island

Another great place for shelling in Florida is at Marco Island which is the largest and only developed island that forms part of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands.

There are several beaches on Marco Island that are great for shelling. The best ones are Tigertail Beach and South Beach.

Map of Marco Island showing location of Tigertail Beach and South Beach

Tigertail Beach is definitely the most famous shelling beach on Marco Island.

Here you’ll find a variety of shells including conch shells, calico scallops, sand dollars, starfish, moon snail shells and more.

South Beach is also a great shelling spot and is a bit more unknown so you’ll usually find that it’s less crowded compared with Tigertail Beach.

Expect to find lion’s paws, moon shells, cockles, clams, conchs, murexes and more at South Beach.

4. Cedar Key

Cedar Key, which is a cluster of islands located halfway between Orlando and Tallahassee, is another great place for shelling.

Map of Florida showing location of Cedar Key

The small beaches of Cedar Key are packed with interesting seashells. I’d recommend looking in the tidal pools for the best shelling opportunities.

Another advantage is that Cedar Key isn’t super well known so you won’t have to fight the crowds to pick up some seashells here. 

5. Barefoot Beach County Preserve

Another great place for shelling in Florida is at the Barefoot Beach County Preserve, located in Naples.

Map showing the location of the Barefoot Beach County Preserve

Barefoot Beach, which is often ranked as one of Naples’ best beaches, is an undeveloped barrier island with over 342 acres of land and a mile of beach!

I found that the best spot for shelling is near the jetty at Wiggins Pass. You will be able to find corals, sand dollars, sharks teeth, skoots, alphabet ocones, lion paws and more.

Shelling Tips & Tricks

Here’s some handy tips on shelling that should help you find the best shells.

Whether it’s your first time shelling or you’ve been doing it for years, you might learn something useful.

  • Go early in the morning. This allows you to beat the crowds and get first pick of the seashells.
  • Use a hand sieve. Using one of these hand sieves can hugely increase your chances of finding interesting shells and speeds up the process.
  • Go just after a storm. Shelling just after a storm or strong winds is the best as this often brings new shells to the shore.
  • The best time for shelling is an hour before or after low tide. High tide brings seashells inland, low tide is when you can find them.
  • Wade into the water. You only need to go just a few feet into the water and you’ll likely find some of the best shells.
  • Dig into the sand. Sometimes the shells get covered with sand so it’s a good idea to bring a small shovel and dig a little.
  • Take your time. Finding the best shells takes time so don’t be in a rush.

Did you know you can also go shelling in Destin, Florida?

And that’s it!

Thanks for reading this post on shelling in Key West & the Florida Keys. 

Hopefully this post gave you some tips if you want to try shelling in Key West or gave you other ideas if Key West doesn’t sound like it’s for you.


Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir, who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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