Shelling & Beach Combing on Longboat & Anna Maria

shells1Sea shells are by far the most sought after treasure for the beachcomber and Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key offer an abundance of unique and beautiful shells.


Experienced beachcombers know to look for shells at low tide and after storms or unusually strong tides. All beaches have shells, but some of the best beaches in Florida for consistently productive shelling are located in southwest Florida, on the Gulf. That’s why the beaches of Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key provide shellers with exceptional opportunities to stumble upon exceptional and striking treasures.


The hardest-to-find shells, and those in the best condition, are considered the most valuable to collectors. While many may be drawn to a live shell, a shell that still has the living animal inside, such as a conch or clam, it is important to remember beach rules regarding collecting. Many beaches, including those on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, do not allow the taking of live shells, including sand dollars!


Shelling must be one of the least expensive hobbies available. All you really need is a bag or bucket to put the shells in—a separate bag for the more fragile shells is helpful—and, unless you are an expert, a good shell identification guide is a must.


Tips for Shelling:



-Rinse the shells in water and let them dry away from the sun. You can also soak the shells in a 50/50 bleach and water mix for a few hours.


Organization of Shells:

-Categorize your shells by size, shape, color and type. Use a plastic box with dividers to keep your shells orderly and cushion the fragile shells with pieces of foam. Make sure to mark your box with the date you found your shells so you can always remember that day at the beach!


Identifying Shells:

-The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum has a great online shell identification guide that will help you recognize the various pieces in your collection. To browse shells commonly found in South West Florida by photo go to


Best Places to Find Shells:

  • Rock tide pools
  • Sandbars
  • Tidal flats
  • Seaweed
  • Piers
  • Drift lines

Best Time for Shelling:

Go during low tide for the greatest expanse of beach and shells. You can check Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key weather reports for low tide times.

Go after a storm – cold fronts can push water away from the beach, somewhat like a low tide and tropical storms can churn up the water to bring shells ashore.