Late December 2020-January 2021
What: Seashells. Sanibel and the 10,000 islands are well known for their insane PILES of seashells. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. 8-12 inch piles 50 yards long and 10 yards wide all over the shore.
Where: Sanibel Island and 10,000 Islands in South Florida.
When: Shelling during low tide is always best simply because more of what’s usually underwater is now dry land. Additionally, you can also walk out into the water knee deep and find some great shells!
When we originally got to Sanibel Island it was 2:30 in the afternoon and I found some fantastic shells just raking through the piles on the shore. There’s a tide schedule you can find online that will tell you the low tide times. You can even look at the lowest tide times for years in advance. Google: lowest tides of the year or you can use this link for daily tide updates and more information than you ever wanted to know.
How much: We flew into RSW from BHM for 325$ Per round round trip ticket. If you book further out you can get better deals.
You can’t even drive onto Sanibel Island without paying a fee. The toll is 6$ to get onto Sanibel Island. The guy that rented me the car at the airport told me it was 6$ to get off the island as well, but what I’ve read online says it’s 6$ one way. I’ve visited states before where they sent me a bill for my tolls. I always pay them because I don’t know what happens if you don’t. I bought my Sun Pass when I got my rental car. It was 10$ a day which works out well if you are also visiting Cape Coral or Miami. During Covid, they are taking pics of tags.
Parking on Sanibel Island: Is outrageous. It’s literally the most outrageous parking I’ve ever paid in my life, but the island is super clean and you’d be hard pressed to find a piece of trash anywhere. I imagine them paying trash fairies to clean the island with our parking fees and it makes me feel better. Most places on Sanibel are 5$ an hour to park. Yes, people check. Yes, you will get a 100$ ticket and it increases to 150$ if it’s not paid within 14 days.
If you park on Captiva Island at the beach, it’s 40$ per day. Captiva is the Island next to Sanibel. Like, they’re almost connected and you have to go through Sanibel to get there. There are no lines in these parking spots yall. You’re just parking in dirt and crushed shells, so it’s hard to know if you’re straight or not. You better take the time to take up only one space and park straight or you get a ticket for that too. I almost did.
If You think you’re smarter than the parking fairies on Sanibel: You’re not. If you park on the side of the road-and that’s really hard to do because I tried and tried, you get a fine. They have trees and bushes growing strategically along the roadside so that not even a bicycle can be parked on the shoulder. Enough about parking. Clearly, the cost of parking hurt my feelings.
Traffic: Is a nightmare at times. We arrived at the island at 2:30pm on a Wednesday. What the heck? How are there this many people pouring onto the island at 3pm on a Wednesday?! It took us just over an hour to get across the bridge and to a parking spot on a beach. Did I mention that finding parking was a nightmare? We would not have found a place to park had it not started raining. Lesson learned-GO EARLY! The following day, we arrived BEFORE sunrise and we were the 3rd people parked at Lighthouse Beach.
Getting around on the island: You can drive, of course, but you have to pay per hour at each parking lot, unless you are eating at a restaurant and you park there. A lot of people rent bikes! It looks like a lot of fun and you would definitely not have to worry about finding a place to park. You could ride your bikes from beach to beach, to eating places and not have to worry about traffic. A picture is easier, so here’s a screenshot from Billy’s Bikes on Sanibel Island. 1/4/21
Staying on the Island: There is one campground and a lot of resorts and houses. I have a friend who goes to Sanibel often and she loves to stay at the Sanibel Inn. In January their per night rates for a one bedroom with a bed, pull-out couch and kitchenette was 300$ a night. You can get a room with a queen bed, without a kitchenette for around 250$. I tried selecting one night and the rate for January 13th, checking out on the 14th is 191$, but with taxes and the ammenities fee, the price is 249.76 for the night. Before you think that’s high…they also have FREE beach chairs, beach towels, bikes, SUP boards, and other fun beach stuff. All you have to do is sign them out and sign them back in when you bring them back. The Sanibel Inn is directly on the beach and has a restaurant on site.
Best Shelling Beaches on Sanibel Island: This is strictly a matter of opinion, but I will tell you that before we went, I kept seeing people say Lighthouse Beach. This beach is on one of the the tips of the island and has very clean restrooms! Parking is very limited, so get there very early. The shelling on this beach (I walked up to 1 mile down the beach) was pretty good! Captiva was another we saw a lot and I didn’t personally find my best shells there, even when we arrived really early. There were a lot of people and we just didn’t find quite as thick shell piles as we did on Tarpon Bay Beach. Tarpon Bay is the Beach we visited the first afternoon we arrived and I found my favorite shells from Sanibel, on this beach. I was very late to the party so I dug through shell piles for about an hour. These piles were pretty high on the beach, definitely at the high tide mark. I’m sure others had already dug through them that day, yet I still found a lot of small, and medium great, whole shells. If you google best shelling beaches on Sanibel, many people will say-all of the beaches! I imagine this is true. There are definitely no shell-free beaches on this island. Here’s a map of public beaches with parking.
10,000 Islands and shelling tours: For over a year before this trip, I followed ReelKind on instagram. It was one of those pages that pops up when you use shelling hashtags. I was blown away by the shells they would post and I knew I had to go some day. Reel Kind is a company that takes people on excursions to fish and go shelling. The 10,000 Islands are about an hour and 15 minutes south of Sanibel Island and this is where the tour begins. For 125$ per person I booked a 4 hour excursion with them. They take you to one of many islands about 15 minutes from the dock and they let you off the boat so that you can pick up shells to your heart’s content. You could NEVER, ever, in a million years pick them all up in a day or even a week. We arrived at low tide and all over the beach there were whole, beautiful shells and sand dollars, everywhere! After I had picked up literally 40 conch shells, I realized that these were like trash shells. No one else was picking them up because there were so many other amazing, and more rare shells! I put them in a pile on the beach and decided to keep looking. We were the only ones on the beach for the first 2 hours, then 2-3 other boats carrying 3-5 people each, joined us. We found and tossed back into the ocean, starfish, lightning whelks with the gastropods still inside, and untying that still had a living creature inside. We only keep the empty shells. This is considered ethical shelling. Don’t worry about all the hermit crabs that will need shells to grow into. You cannot ever get all the shells, so they will have plenty left for future homes.
You will hands-down find better quality and quantity of shells in a shorter amount of time on one of these excursions, than you would on Sanibel Island in a week. If you are just in it for the shells, skip Sanibel Island and go on a shelling tour and stay in a hotel in Ft Meyers for just under 100$ a night, or better yet-camp! I found a lot of smaller shells on Sanibel Island, but I had to dig to find many of the good ones. I found some nice, smaller shells during low tide too, but I had to wade out to find larger shells and many of them still had occupants, so I couldn’t keep them. The competition was pretty fierce too because there were a lot of people on Sanibel’s beaches. Don’t get me wrong-I enjoyed it, but if I had it to do over again and I was just in it for the shells, I’d just book the shelling tour and relax later on the beach.
I would have loved to have rented a boat and driven myself to these islands! Besides not having a boating license, the Bay Area you travel across to get to these islands is very, very shallow, like maybe 2-3 feet in places, during low tide. You need a captain who knows where they are going so you won’t get stranded in the shallow parts. The path we took was interesting. We zig-zagged across an area that I would have driven straight across, but we had to do so because of how shallow it was in places. The shallow spots depend on the tide and change drastically over the course of the day. It’s too far to kayak. Don’t think I didn’t think of that.
This is my experience in a nutshell. Contact me on my instagram: Adventuringlight if you have questions. Enjoy!