Winter Shelling in Pensacola: How to Find the Best Seashells

The summer might be coming to an end. But the opportunities for Pensacola shelling adventures have just begun. The winter season is the perfect time to spot the best seashells, after all, and for good reason.

Low tides are common, which often push the shells beyond the tidal shelf and make them easier to see. The sun sits lower in the sky as well, creating long shadows that lead you straight to the shells.

Now is the time to get ready for all the fun, too, so you can hit the ground running as soon as the prime winter shelling season arrives. Here’s what you need to know to nab the best finds and have a wonderful time...

Where to Find Pensacola Seashells

Whenever the desire to go winter shelling arises, you have several excellent beaches near Pensacola to consider, such as:

Bay Bluffs Park

3400 Scenic Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32503

Bay Bluffs Park has miles of sandy shores to explore all throughout the winter. The beach runs right along where Pensacola Bay and Escambia Bay meet, bringing many different types of seashells to the shoreline. The sandy beach stays pretty narrow most of the time, so plan to arrive when the tide is at its lowest point of the day.  

Sand Island Pensacola

Old West Access Rd, Pensacola, FL 32508

Photo Credit by @carawalen on Instagram

As the name implies, Sand Island Pensacola is just pure sand from end to end, giving you plenty of space to hunt for seashells. To get there, you’ll need to take your watercraft from the nearby Sherman Cove Marina through the Pensacola Pass. Jellyfish can prove problematic at times, especially if you cannot pull up close to the shore. For that reason, many people arrive here on a jet ski or by kayak instead of taking a full-size boat.

San Carlos Beach

San Carlos Beach, Florida 32508

Photo Credit by @byronbizzle on Instagram

If you have a military ID, San Carlos Beach is the place to go for a quiet seashell search to remember. The exclusive access means that not many people come here to find shells. So, you’re bound to find tons of different seashell types just sitting right along the waterline. Dig down just a bit and you’ll find even more awaiting discovery.

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach, 41 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561

people walking into the water at the beach

If you want seashells from the Gulf of Mexico, then just head on over to Pensacola Beach. You can visit either Luna Beach on the east side or Langdon Beach on the west. Either way, the barrier island catches all the big waves, resulting in new shells landing on its beaches at all hours of the day. Since both beaches get plenty busy by midday, it’s best to arrive early in the morning to see what washed up the night before.

Fort Pickens Beach

1400 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561

Want to see what shells you can find on the bayside of the barrier island? Head down to Fort Pickens National Park. Start your explorations at the point and then work your way back along the bay. By the time you reach the campgrounds, you’ll likely have tons of interesting seashells on your hands.   

Shoreline Park Pavilion

Shoreline Dr, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561

Photo Credit by @sunsetwithslims on Instagram

For a chance to grab shells from the English Navy Cove, get on over to the Shoreline Park Pavilion. Start your search along the sandy shores near the parking area. Then, head west along the coast until you see houses up ahead. The rest of the stretch is private land, so don’t go past the main tree line. Since this beach mostly attracts swimmers and pier fishermen, you can usually find awesome shells at any time of the day.  

Common Seashells in Pensacola

hand holding up a seashell, shell island, panama city beach

A magical sea shelling adventure starts with an understanding of just what you might find. Both the bay and gulf waters are teeming with marine life, making it possible to find tons of different types of shells.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find all these shells during your wintertime beach explorations:  

  • Sun dials
  • Sand dollars
  • Fighting conchs
  • Buttercup Lucina
  • Sunray Venus clams
  • Scotch bonnets
  • Moon snail shells
  • Lettered olive
  • Lightning whelks
  • Quahog clams
  • Prickly cockles
  • Coquina shells
  • Kitten’s paw
  • Calico scallops

Bring a book about Gulf Coast seashells if you’d like to easily identify the shells you find right on the spot. In your handy reference guide, you’ll find the shell’s name and get to learn about the creature that left it behind.

Don’t forget to bring a hand shovel, a small rake, and a fine mesh bag as well. A high SPF sunblock, sunglasses, and a sunhat are also good ideas. Although it’s wintertime, the sunlight can still get quite intense while near the water.

Best Times to Go Winter Shelling

To find the best mix of shells, visit each beach at least once through the winter season. If possible, visit the beaches several times over until you find at least one of each type of shell for your collection.

At all the beaches, you have the best chance of finding seashells during low tide. Check the tide chart online before heading out. Then, plan your visit for about an hour or two before the tide reaches its lowest point. During that time, you can walk up and down the beach, watching for new shells to pop into the view as the water recedes. You’ll also want to rake along the tidal shelf to reveal the shells pushed into the sand.

If you happen to find any shells with creatures still inside, carefully place them back in the water. Only take the shells that have long since been discarded and are in perfect condition. Over time, you’ll find all the different types of shells the area is known for, creating a beautiful collection to share with the world.

You can post your new finds on social media or just put them on a shelf to show them off to your visitors. The shells might even look great piled up in a basket on the counter, allowing you to dig through them whenever you want to relive your Pensacola winter shelling adventures.