tigertail beach marco island florida

Tigertail Beach, Marco Island: A Shelling Guide

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It’s no secret I love shelling.  Like, I love it so much.  I try and do it everywhere that I can, especially in Florida so when I knew I was going to be there in January, I set off on a mission to find the best shelling in south Florida.  Of course the Sanibel beaches came up first, but we knew it would be so busy and I kept looking.  Enter Marco Island.  I realized this was closer to where we would be and less busy, so off we went!  Tigertail beach was our goal for shelling on Marco Island and maybe the main beach if we felt like it.

Instead of doing this as a day trip from Everglades City, which is totally possible, we did it as a day trip, well, morning trip, from Naples.  Tigertail Beach on Marco Island was the perfect option over Sanibel because we knew it wouldn’t be as busy and it was closer so we wouldn’t have to get up quite as early, which we tend to avoid as much as possible.

tigertail beach marco island florida

So off we went from Naples and easily found Tigertail Beach.  We drove through some (all) very nice neighborhoods to get there and saw A LOT of manatee mailboxes on the way.  I loved it.  It’s a nice little beach park with a place to eat but we just wanted the beach.  To get to it, you can either wade through a lagoon or walk down the beach a bit to go around it.

We walked around it and it definitely wasn’t as far as everything else online made it seem.  There was so much open beach, it was crazy.  It was busy-ish right along the water, but further back was pretty much no one.  And even where it was busy, it really wasn’t that busy.

We dropped our stuff off and walked up and down the beach a bit without finding a whole lot.  I really wanted to find a sand dollar but I know they’re rare and was out of luck this time.  Soon we decided to walk along the little sandbar out in the water and the shelling was way better out there.

tigertail beach marco island florida

I found tons of fighting conchs, some augers, a scallop or two, a couple olive jars, a kittens paw, and some coral.  I’m sure if we got there earlier we could have found a lot more, but we were both getting pretty sun burned and hot and decided it was time to go.  After that we just drove around Marco Island a bit looking at all the condos and houses before heading back to Naples for some fancy juice.

I really liked shelling on Tigertail Beach and Marco Island in general even though we didn’t get to spend too much time there.  I’d like to go back and see the other beach, too, but mostly to do a Ten Thousand Islands shelling tour because I think that would be so much fun.

About Tigertail Beach: Shelling and Formation

With all the development on Marco Island, it’s one of the last places you would think to find such a pristine beach.  But, here it is.  It’s also fairly new, which is a little surprising.  It’s not as well-known as other beaches since it’s a Collier County Park.

It used to be an off-shore sand bar fifteen years ago, but Hurricane Wilma piled sand up on the south end connecting Sand Dollar Island, as it was known, to the mainland.  On the mainland, it’s a well-developed beach park, but once you cross the lagoon, it’s just good ol’ beach.

tigertail beach marco island florida

What to bring shelling on Marco Island

You really don’t need to bring much, but there are a few things you’ll want to have with you.

Mesh shell bag – We just used grocery bags we got on the trip, but this would be soooo much more convenient.  This will help loose sand fall out and you could even dip the whole thing in the ocean if necessary for a little rinse.  We rinsed them all off with the hose anyways because they collect so much sand in them.  Buy the mesh shell bag here.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and maybe humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be swimming, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the wind.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

tigertail beach marco island florida

Where is Tigertail Beach on Marco Island?

Once you’re at Tigertail Beach and pay the fee, you can park anywhere if you want to cross the lagoon.  You’ll want to bring a dry bag if you’re crossing and have a phone or camera, just in case.  You can always rent paddleboards to get across and take out on the water, too.

If you want to walk around, driver to the far end of the parking lot and park there.  There is a boardwalk that will take you to some beach, but that’s not it yet.  Once you’re here, go to the left and just walk around the bushy area to the main beach.  It’s maybe ten or fifteen minutes of walking.  It’s definitely not as bad as the Internet made it sound.

How much is Tigertail Beach entrance?

It’s $8 and there is a snack bar, changing area, beach umbrellas, playground, and kayak/paddleboard/beach gear rental place.  I definitely thought it was worth it.

tigertail beach marco island florida

Where can you go shelling on Marco Island?

Tigertail Beach shelling

Obviously, Tigertail Beach is a great option.  It’s at the north end of the island and much less busy than the other beaches in the area.  The sand was so nice and white, plus there are like, piles of small shells all over like the shells are sand, which I always love seeing.

South Marco Beach shelling

This is the other public beach on Marco Island which is also great for shelling, but, I think, it’s busier than Tigertail Beach.  I haven’t been to this one though, so let me know if this is wrong.  It is also $8 and great for shelling, again, at low tide.

Keewaydin Island shelling

While this isn’t on the main part of the island, it’s another island not too far from Marco Island.  The only catch is that it’s only accessible by boat, but there is the Hemingway Water Shuttle that can get you out there.

Marco Island Shelling tours

If you don’t want to go on your own or want to go to some of the islands in the area, consider doing a shelling tour!  They an take you to the best shelling spots in the area that you may not be able to do on your own, especially if you’re just visiting.

tigertail beach marco island florida

The best time to go shelling on Marco Island

Low tide is usually the best since that’s when all the shells are uncovered after being washed up.  You can find a Marco Island tide table here.  I think the shelling is good year round, but the weather was great in the winter.  It wasn’t too humid but it was still hot.  The beach also wasn’t totally packed which was great.  While it’s not going to be as great of shelling as on Sanibel, it’s a great alternative.

Tips for shelling on Marco Island:

  • Don’t take any live sand dollars (usually darker brown, a little fuzzy, and half buried in the sand) or shells with critters in them.
  • I would definitely rinse out the shells when you get home because the conchs and olives really collect a lot of sand.
  • Definitely wear sunscreen here and drink lots of water.  It got pretty hot when we were here and it was January.
  • The best place to find shells is between the water and the tideline where the seaweed and stuff tens to pile up.
  • If you can go during a full moon, apparently that’s a great time to go shelling, too.  Apparently thee gravitational pull of a full moon can rustle up more shells on the beach.
  • Right after big storms is another great time to go, too since the storm with have churned up all kinds of goodies.

Have you gone shelling on Marco Island?  What did you find?  Where did you think the best place to go was?  What is your favorite place for shelling in Florida?

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