Posted on 1/25/2024

Ultimate Guide to Shelling on Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island, our beloved slice of paradise, is a dream destination on the Gulf Coast of Florida known for its clear waters, white sand beaches, and ample opportunities to find and collect gorgeous seashells. With mile after mile of sandy shoreline, it should come as no surprise that shelling is a favorite pastime among locals.

A seriously underrated way to spend time on the beach, shelling involves simply strolling the shores and keeping your eyes peeled for unique and beautiful shells (or sea glass or even shark teeth!). Shelling is fun for the whole family and offers a chance to get up close and personal with the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast.

Anna Maria Island is home to some of Manatee County's most beautiful beaches, offering plenty of options for beachcombing no matter where on the island you stay thanks to the convenient, free  AMI Island Trolley. While you can find shells on any of  Anna Maria Island's beaches, these three are our personal favorites! 

Coquina Beach

Photo Credit: Unwind

Coquina Beach is located on the southern end of the island and is a popular place to visit with its soft, white sand and clear waters. You'll find a variety of shells that have washed ashore, especially after a storm or high tide.

Sand dunes and sea grass border the beach, so don't forget to do some extra digging (pun intended) to find that elusive perfect shell. You'll find a wide range of shells here, from the beach's namesake coquina shells to larger horse conch shells.

The beach also offers amenities like picnic tables and restrooms, making it a fun spot for a day of shelling and picnicking with the family! Kids will love the beachfront playground!

Bean Point

Photo Credit: Dmitri Kotchetov

At the opposite end of the island to the north, you'll find  Bean Point, which is the perfect spot for an especially secluded shelling experience. While Coquina Beach is less crowded than Holmes Beach, it's still generally more populated than Bean Point, making Bean Point our top pick for those who like peace and quiet. What makes Bean Point a great beach for shelling are its surrounding currents, which bring a wide variety of shells to shore.

Manatee Public Beach

Photo Credit: Andrew Dawley via Flickr CC2.0

Manatee Public Beach is popular not only for its amenities and family-friendly vibes but also for its shelling potential. The beach's convenient location in the middle of the island makes it easily accessible regardless of where you're staying. While here, you might come across a variety of shells, from common scallops to the rare junonia shell.

After a day of shelling, you can enjoy a snack at  Anna Maria Island Beach Café (shellfish platter, anyone?) or join in some beach volleyball. If you want to fuel up before your shelling adventures, definitely take advantage of their 'All-You-Can-Eat Pancakes' deal for breakfast!

Shelling Etiquette

Photo Credit: Mark Winfrey

Which Shells Can You Take

While shelling on Anna Maria Island is a popular pastime, if you're considering removing shells from the beach to add to your home collection, there are some things you need to know beforehand.

It's okay to collect shells that don't contain living creatures. Take a peek inside to make sure no little critters are hiding out! Anna Maria Island is home to a wide range of shells, from the lightning whelk to the cockle shell. Feel free to pick up the ones that catch your eye, as long as they're not occupied.

Shells to Leave Behind

If you find a live shell with a living creature inside, it's crucial to leave them where they are. Each shell plays a role, such as being a home for hermit crabs, so taking live shells is a disruption to the local ecosystem.

While the kids may try to convince you to take home a live sand dollar or starfish, these are living creatures and must be left alone. If you find a bleached, white sand dollar with no tiny hairs moving on it, it's no longer alive, and you can take it without worrying.

Shelling Tips & Tricks

To make the most of your shelling adventures on Anna Maria Island, these tips and trips will help you find the best shells and enjoy your time on the beach.

  • Tides: To find a huge selection of shells, head out during low tide or after a storm. You can check  local tide charts for the best shelling times.
  • Best time to shell: The best time of day for shelling is in the early morning. You'll beat the crowds, and also get first pick of the shells that washed up overnight!
  • Sun protection: It's no secret that the Florida sun can be intense! If you're shelling in the afternoon heat, be sure to remember your biodegradable sunscreen and any other sun protection you need.
  • Tread lightly: Follow the principles of 'leave no trace' and collect all of your belongings and trash before you leave. Help to keep our beaches as beautiful as you found them!
  • Shallow shelling: Sometimes, the best finds are just beneath the water's surface along the shoreline. Don't be afraid to get your feet wet and check the shallow waters.
  • Seaweed hiders: Often, shells get tangled in seaweed. If you're feeling brave, you can sift through the seaweed that's washed ashore to see if you can find any hidden gems.

Taking Care of Your Shell Collection

Once you've had your fill of shelling, you'll need to clean them if you plan on taking them home. The last thing you want is sea material getting all over your suitcase!

There are a number of different ways to clean seashells, but we tend to stick to this method. First, rinse your shells in fresh water to remove any sand or salt.

Next, mix a weak solution of bleach and water and soak your shells for a few hours. You'll want to use only a tablespoon of bleach for about a gallon of water. This will help to remove any remaining sea material. After soaking, if there are still any barnacles stuck to your shells, you can use a toothpick to pick them off gently.

Finally, rinse your shells thoroughly in fresh water and let them dry completely. If you want to preserve them further, you can use a mineral oil or polyurethane spray.

Your Shelling Adventures on AMI Await!

Exploring and shelling the beautiful beaches of Anna Maria Island is a memorable experience that's enjoyable for everyone. Not only does it offer an opportunity to get out and connect with nature, but it also allows you to bring home tangible memories in the form of beautiful shells. Plus, who doesn't love free souvenirs?!

The best way to fully enjoy shelling on AMI is by staying close to the action. Anna Maria Island Beach Rentals offers a range of comfortable and convenient vacation rentals that put you near some of the island's best shelling beaches.

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