How to find seashells on the beach

Written by nellie day
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How to find seashells on the beach
Watch the tide to help you unearth beautiful sea shells. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Searching for seashells along a sun-lined, sandy beach is a coastal pastime that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Even the most avid seashell collector, however, has trouble finding large, intact gems straight from the ocean floor. With a little knowledge and a lot of patience, though, you can unearth some of the best shells your collection has seen.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Bag
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Grab your plastic bag and head to the beach's shoreline. Walk up and down the point where the shore stops. Pick up any shells you may see along your way and place them in your bag.

  2. 2

    Observe any areas you see that seem to be pushing debris--whether that be seaweed, trash, rocks or seashells--toward the shore. Head to that area and wait for the tide to come in. Pick up any shells that may wash up.

  3. 3

    Walk a little deeper into the water to see what lies on the bottom of the ocean floor. You only have to go about ankle deep. This will allow you to grab any shells you see before they're picked up by the motion of the tide. You have to act quickly if you see a shell, though, as the time between identifying a shell and the tide coming in is very limited.

  4. 4

    Reach your hand down and feel the bottom of the ocean if the water is muddy or murky, or if the reflection is too bright to see to the bottom. Feel around for foreign objects. If you feel a lot of different textures, there's a good chance they may be rocks and seashells. A smart way to test is to sweep your hand along a few inches of the ocean floor, picking up water items you come in contact with in the process.

  5. 5

    Go through the items you've collected in your hand. If you find seashells of any type, be they small or large, there may be some other opportunities below. If you only find small, pebble-like rocks and lots of sand, move on to a different area of the beach.

  6. 6

    Test various spots in the shoreline as you walk. You can do this by sticking your foot a few inches into the water but not too far from where the shore ends. See if many items pass under your foot. This is done by testing whether any items, aside from sand, move swiftly with the shoreline when the tide comes in. If you have seashells or rocks trapped just underneath the sand below your foot, the current from the shoreline activity will forcefully try to pull them toward the beach.

  7. 7

    Look around the beach, keeping an eye out for any children or kids who may also be collecting seashells. Move to areas that are closer to them where shells may be abundant. Be careful, however, to not completely invade their territory or take shells that you clearly see others reaching for. This beachside etiquette is especially important when it comes to children.

  8. 8

    Visit any out-of-the-way or deserted areas of the beach. These may be untapped resources for shells.

  9. 9

    Search the various crevices and cracks of any rock formations that extend into the ocean. Shells can become trapped in these holes when the current breaks on the rocks. Shells may also be hidden in seaweed or other items that are washed ashore.

Tips and warnings

  • The best time to find seashells (in the United States, anyway) is typically December through February, between late winter and early spring. This is also a convenient time to go shell searching because fewer visitors frequent the beach during these months, as it's typically cold and off-season for tourists.
  • High tide also tends to bring in a lot of shells, so be sure to visit the shoreline after a big storm or high-tide warning.
  • Use common sense when plunging your hand or foot into the water. If you're at a beach known for jellyfish or other animals that frequent the shoreline, don't reach unwittingly into the ocean to grab whatever you can. This strategy is best undertaken at calm beaches or at beaches where you can see the bottom once the tide settles.
  • Whatever bag you choose to store your shells in, make sure that it will hold up to the weight of the shells. Try not to swing the bag or knock it against other items, as this may damage the shells inside.
  • You should wash out any shells you collect once you get home to remove any remnants of sea creatures. Soaking your shells in a bowl of water with some bleach or other detergent that won't harm their texture or colour should work just fine. For shells with many crevices, try a toothpick, hook or even a shucking device.
  • Wear beach-friendly footwear if the beaches are rocky or if you see any signs of broken glass.

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