Beachcombing is an instinctual aspect of any trip to the beach, especially for curious children. And it's especially rewarding to collect souvenirs that recall nature at her most artistic and generous. You will discover something of interest on any stretch of uncrowded coast, but some beaches offer happier hunting than others. Our tips will help you find and identify the most beautiful shells in various regions of the United States.

Shell Seeker's Tips

There's more to beachcombing than strolling, scoping, and hoping for the best. Chuck and Debbie Robinson, authors of "The Art of Shelling," offer this advice from the years they have spent shelling on the East Coast.

The ends of barrier islands and peninsulas and the banks of inlets are the smart places to check out an area for the first time. Shells tend to collect at sandbars.The aftermath of a storm is the best time to find shells from distant locales, as well as driftwood and maritime jetsam like lobster pots and buoys. "Winter is really good, because the water is turbulent and all the good stuff doesn't get cleaned off the beach," says Debbie Robinson.Under normal weather conditions, low tide and the two hours that precede it are prime time.Many shells linger in shallow water near the shore, often in a ditch formed by wave action. Wading and snorkeling are easy ways to search in this zone.

Handling Shells

Local rules apply, but shellers are urged not to disturb living mollusks or to take shells that are inhabited by hermit crabs.The most lustrous shells are those whose inhabitants died most recently. To remove dead animal and plant matter from shells, the Robinsons recommend boiling (one to three minutes for small shells, five to eight for larger ones). Bring plastic bags of various sizes for your finds at the beach.


"The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells" is an indispensible tool.

Maine-Cape Cod

1. Common sand dollar

2. Deep sea scallop

Cape Cod-New Jersey

3. Atlantic razor clam

4. Jingle shells


5. Knobbed whelk

North Carolina-Northern Florida

6. Lettered olive

7. Scotch bonnet

8. Queen helmet

Southern Florida

9. Florida fighting conch

West Coast Florida

10. Junonia

North Florida-Mexico

11. Lighning whelk

12. Giant eastern murex


13. Capeche angel wing

Southern California

14. Chestnut cowry

15 Kellet's whelk

Pacific Northwest

16 Oregon triton

17 Turbans

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
July 30, 2014
The pictures only show 12 shells yet there are 17 listed.
Martha Stewart Member
May 23, 2010
Martha recently showed Big Boi, I believe, how to CLEAN her mussels or quohogs, with some really simple solution, and a scrub brush. It wasn't bleach, but I cannot REMEMBER what it was. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER?? THANKS IN ADVANCE!!