This post was written before Sanibel, Captiva, and parts of the surrounding area were absolutely blasted by Hurricane Ian in September 2022. While the intention is to rebuild, the causeway has been fixed, and the island is expected to begin opening to tourism in January 2023, things are not “back to normal” and likely won’t be for a long time. If you’re planning to visit the area, make sure to do plenty of research to find out what’s open, what’s available and what’s just not even there anymore.
Sanibel, a barrier island off the coast of Ft Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast has long been renowned for having the best shelling in Florida. Well, I think it’s debatable (I’m partial to this spot), BUT Sanibel certainly has some of the most accessible shelling beaches in Florida.
You don’t need a boat or dive gear and you won’t have to hike for miles to find a secluded beach. There are plenty of beaches on Sanibel where you can pull right up, park, and start walking the shoreline looking for treasures.
Sanibel’s location on the Gulf of Mexico AND it’s orientation (it kind of sticks out to the west instead of running north south) means that it’s in a prime spot to collect the millions and millions of shells that sit offshore along Florida’s continental shelf. And if you’re coming to Sanibel during the winter when storms are out stirring it all up, you’re in for a treat!
I’ve spent a lot of time reading, asking around, and doing my own trial and error to bring you the best shelling beaches on Sanibel:
The Best Shelling Beaches on Sanibel
Shelling is a random game and that’s part of the fun. But there are definitely some spots that are better than others. And when it comes to shelling on Sanibel and Captiva, there’s one spot that sticks out above all the rest…
Blind Pass Beach
This isn’t the easiest beach to visit on Sanibel (mostly because of the parking), but if shelling is your priority, this is the spot you don’t want to miss. Blind Pass separates Sanibel from Captiva and the pass tends to be a place where shells collect. There’s a nice sandy beach on the Sanibel and the Captiva side and there’s parking on each side as well as a bridge that connects them.
This spot is popular with shellers and fishermen and there’s pretty limited parking (about 30 spots on either side of the bridge) so arriving early is key!
The earlier the better…come at sunrise if you want the first choice among what’s washed up overnight no matter when low tide is. You’ll also want to be prepared to wade in the water and I would recommend having a scoop/strainer tool. They sell them at a lot of shops on the island.
You’ll want to search around Blind Pass Beach (the Sanibel side) and Turner Beach (the Captiva side) as well as up under the bridge and around.
Parking in either lot is $5/hour (cash or card) and the Turner Beach (Captiva) side has restrooms and I’m guessing a shower/foot rinse since there’s water (there wasn’t one on the Sanibel side).
It doesn’t really matter which side you park on though. There’s a bridge that connects them and it’s not very far.
If you’re looking for a good place to stay on Sanibel, the Castaways Beach & Bay Cottages sit right around Blind Pass Beach. They’re really cute, and I will definitely look into renting one of these on my next trip.
Other Shelling Beaches on Sanibel
If you’re a serious sheller, Blind Pass Beach is really where you want to be, but if you’re setting up camp for the day with the family, or you’re staying somewhere else on the island and you’re more of a casual sheller, there are a lot of other beaches on the island. And you never know what you’ll find!
Lighthouse Beach Park
This is one of the most popular beaches on the island for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s close to the bridge onto the island, and second…there’s a historic lighthouse!
It’s $5/hour to park and there are machines that take cash or card. The accessibility is pretty good here and there are restrooms and showers. There’s a short trail that will take you right up to the lighthouse and around to some different beach access areas (you can’t walk all the way around the point because the beach is eroded). The shelling is probably okaaaay here if you arrive at first light and you’re willing to wade and dig around, but if you show up midday forget about it. This is a heavily trafficked beach so everything gets pretty picked over early in the day. But it’s an attractive beach for reasons besides just shelling.
One of Sanibel’s most popular beaches, this spot has ample parking and good facilities (restrooms, showers, playground, picnic tables, etc.). It can get crowded, but since it’s in the middle of the island you can take off and walk for miles in either direction which is a beachcomber’s dream. So if you’re willing to go for a stroll, this can be a really good shelling beach. If you’re not able to arrive at sunrise (like you need to at Blind Pass Beach), this is probably your best spot.
Parking at Sanibel Beaches
You’ll pay $5/hour to park at all Sanibel beaches and there’s no parking on the side of the road anywhere on the island so there’s no way around it.
There are also a couple of different long term parking permits you can apply for (one for residents and one for non residents) if you’re going to spend an extended period of time in the area. All beach parking areas will have some spots reserved for people with these permits (they’re called A & B permits).
Also, don’t forget to factor in the $6 toll to come onto the island from Fort Myers. There’s nowhere to pay cash – they just charge it to your credit card on file if you’re driving a rental or your state toll pass.
More posts about this area:
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