The Great Sanibel Shelling Showdown: Lighthouse Beach Vs Blind Pass Beach

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Shelling on Sanibel is a bucket list topper for anyone that loves collecting sea shells. It’s one of, if not the, best places in the world to go shelling and I finally got to visit this winter!

When my parents came to visit Florida in March we had a big shelling focused trip planned and knew we would have to go to Sanibel.

Our AirBnb in Fort Myers was just on the other side of the Sanibel Causeway making it super easy to visit. There are quite a few beaches on Sanibel and I had to try and narrow down the ones we wanted to visit.

I eventually decided on Lighthouse Beach and Blind Pass Beach. I picked Blind Pass because it’s better for finding rare shells and Lighthouse, I think just seemed good.

We got up super early, way too early, two days in a row to hit the beach and it was.. not worth it. I mean, it was because I’ve wanted to go for so long but also not because I found way more and better shells other places.

After our morning at Lighthouse Beach we went through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge again with just as little wildlife. And after Blind Pass the next day, we went back to the bookstores on the island, which I loved.

So if you’re planning a trip to Sanibel to do some shelling and are short on time, this will hopefully help you decide between Lighthouse Beach and Blind Pass Beach.

What to bring shelling on Sanibel

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.

Shell scoopThis is so helpful for picking up shells in the water if you aren’t swimming. I don’t have one but I will definitely get one for future shelling trips. It also saves your back from the Sanibel Stoop. Buy a shell scoop here.

Shells on Sanibel Island

  • Worm snails
  • Murex
  • Horn snails
  • Whelks
  • Bay scallops
  • Junonias (highly coveted, they’ll write a story about you in the paper if you find one)
  • Turkey wings
  • Alphabet cones
  • Wentletraps
  • True tulips
  • Cockles
  • Lettered olives
  • And lots more

Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel

When I was planning this shelling trip, Lighthouse Beach kept coming up as one of the best places to shell on Sanibel so obviously we had to go.

The day we went, we got up early and headed from the AirBnb to the beach pretty much at sunrise, so not quite as early as some people suggested but still super early (for me at least.)

When we got there, there was plenty of parking and not too many people but parking was getting fairly full when we left no more than two hours later.

The best thing I saw on Lighthouse Beach was a crab.

Where is Lighthouse Beach?

Lighthouse Beach is on the mainland side of the island just after you cross over the Sanibel Causeway. It’s where you’ll see the lighthouse as you’re driving in.

Lighthouse Beach Parking

Lighthouse Beach has quite a bit of parking but it does fill up so I’d get there early in the day (like, before 9 for sure) or try later in the evening.

It has 152 parking spaces and it’s $5 per hour to park there.

My experience shelling on Lighthouse Beach

Boooooo!

That’s it. That’s what I think of shelling on Lighthouse Beach. brought like, 20 shells home from Lighthouse Beach and they were all really small.

I don’t know if we weren’t there early enough or I didn’t dig enough or I didn’t go far enough into the water but it was very disappointing and not worth getting up before sunrise for.

I don’t have one of the shell scooper things which would make going in the water easier and I think that would have helped a lot.

Maybe it was a bad shell week or day but I didn’t think it was good there. And it’s not that there aren’t shells, there are, they’re just tiny cockle, scallop, common shells. It was a major let down after all the Sanibel hype.

Lighthouse Beach shelling tips

  • Try to get here at or 30 minutes before sunrise for optimal shelling
  • Honestly, if you only have one morning for shelling, pick another beach
  • This one is best for looking for small shells

Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel

Another thing I figured from my research was that Blind Pass Beach is one of the better options for shelling on Sanibel and I think it was but I was still just not that impressed.

We went to Blind Pass the morning after Lighthouse Beach, earlier this time, too. We got there before the sun was actually up and I’m really glad. It’s a much smaller beach but can still get busy.

We still only spent a couple of hours here and really only found small shells but there was more variety here. Still not much and nothing super interesting.

Where is Blind Pass Beach?

Blind Pass Beach is at the opposite end of Sanibel as Lighthouse Beach. The parking area is on the left just before the bridge over to Captiva Island.

Blind Pass Beach parking

Blind Pass Beach has super limited parking, only 29, and it’s also $5 per hour. I would get there at or before sunrise for the best shelling and parking options. There were like, five cars trying to park when we left between 8:30 and 9 and no spaces, except ours.

My experience shelling on Blind Pass Beach

Still not great, but way better than Lighthouse Beach. The beach is a lot smaller, like, tiny, and I didn’t go in the water here at all, which might be the secret to success but there was a massive pile of shells that I just dug through.

It was a solid mountain of shells and I spent the entire time sifting through that. I liked it but it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.

With the beach being so small, too, I felt like I was encroaching on other people’s territory if I got too close to where they were searching.

It was really pretty but my favorite part of Sanibel is still the bookstores.

Blind Pass shelling tips

  • Shelling is better on the Blind Pass side of the pass than the Turner side of the pass (the side on Captiva)
  • It’s also better on the part right on the water not under the bridge or the inland side of it
  • Get there before sunrise (about 30 minutes before) for parking and the best shelling. You’ll want to bring a flashlight, too.
  • You’ll probably have the best luck looking in the water versus on the actual beach
  • You’re more likely to find rare shells around here than other beaches
  • Currents can be really strong out here so be careful wandering out into the water. Don’t go too far!
Blind Pass shell mountain, all of the light stuff on the left of the beach is shells

Tips for shelling on Sanibel Island

  • You’ll definitely want to dig to find the best shells. It’s best to do this in the shallow parts of the water and you can get little digger scoops to help with that.
  • If you go in the water at Blind Pass, be very careful of strong currents and don’t go out too far.
  • Get there first thing in the morning. Like, before the first thing. We got to Blind Pass at sunrise, still almost dark, and people were already out there. If you want the best shells, go just before sunrise (30 minutes or so) and bring a flashlight.
  • Don’t take live shells! This is illegal and you should put anything living carefully back in the water.
  • If this is a strictly shelling trip for you, I would just stay on Sanibel so you don’t have to drive far and can get started early.
  • There is a $6 toll for the Sanibel Causeway.
  • You’ll want to try and go during low tide, wherever you’re shelling, for the best chance at finding good shells.

So which is better, Lighthouse Beach or Blind Pass Beach?

I’d have to go with Blind Pass Beach, for sure. I was very underwhelmed with all of he shelling we did on this trip, though I did find a few gems (to me), but overall I had much, much higher expectations from Sanibel.

I would much rather go to Lovers Key State Park, Marco Island, Caladesi Island State Park along the gulf. I’m sure Sanibel is great, but it wasn’t when we were there. It was just not a good shelling trip overall though. I’ll still go back though!

Is Sanibel worth visiting?

I think so. I think we just had really bad luck shelling on this whole trip and that carried over to Sanibel. It’s one of the best places in the world for shelling so I’d say it’s worth a visit. And hey, if the shelling is bad, at least the bookstores are good.

Have you been shelling on Sanibel? What did you think of it? What did you find? Where do you think shelling is best on Sanibel?

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