Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? If you are someone who loves to explore and search for unique gems underwater, then shelling is right up your alley! Florida is the perfect place to search for variations of shells, shark teeth, small creatures, sand dollars, and many other small treasures. Recently, we have taken up the activity of shelling and have found so many beautiful shells and sand dollars in the waters along the Gulf Coast. I hope you enjoy our shelling adventures | kayaking to Shell Key, Florida!

Getting There

The day is perfect for kayaking and a treasure hunt as blue skies are abundant with only a few clouds. Keep in mind, Florida can be sunny one minute then quickly have a gully washer of rain the next minute. The weather consists of clouds and thunderstorms usually scattered throughout the area in the Summer season.

We begin our journey by launching the kayak from an area located just prior to reaching the main gate at Fort DeSoto Park. This area is somewhat discreet, and there is no signage or parking spots.

It’s essentially an unofficial kayak canoe launch area. We begin our kayak journey out on into the water of the Gulf heading towards what we think is Shell Key. And along the way, the anhingas join us as they swim and hunt for fish beside our kayak. They are fun to watch!

Shelling Adventures | Kayaking To Shell Key, Florida

Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key is a small narrow barrier island located in Pinellas County, Florida. Our journey takes us over the Skyway Bridge towards St. Petersburg. We take exit 17 and proceed to make our way to Fort DeSoto Park area. A quick reminder, be sure to review the map as to where Shell Key is out in the Gulf prior to your kayak adventure.

Source: PinellasCounty.org

There are a few other Keys (small islands) that you will pass in the kayak. What is really cool is while you make your way to Shell Key, you can make stops at the small Keys and check them out. Shell Key has no services on the island. There are no restrooms, dining or lodging available. It is truly a deserted island! It was a great day to visit Shell Key as we only saw about a half a dozen people on the island. We felt like we had the place to ourselves.

You will find that this uniquely shaped narrow island is comprised of 1800 acres of natural preserve. It is land space that is one of the largest barrier islands in the county and protects highly sensitive marine habitats. Bird watching is incredible here and the preserve is one of the state’s most important areas for nesting.

White Ibis and roseate spoonbill on a branch on Sister Key, Florida. Shelling at Shell Key. Fitlifeandtravel.com
Spoonbill Roseate and White Ibis

In the photo above, this is a white ibis and a roseate spoonbill sharing a branch on Sister Key.

Getting Lost

As we continue kayaking through the smaller keys; Summer Key, etc. we end up crossing the ever so busy channel to reach the far north part of Fort DeSoto. Of course, we didn’t know where we were at this time. So, I approached the lifeguard platform and asked them where I was.

As you might imagine, they did enjoy a little laugh. Turns out, we were on North Beach at Fort DeSoto and will need to get back into the kayak and cross the channel again to reach Shell Key. The scene at North Beach was quite busy with a full parking lot and several beach goers having a ball, but you can usually find a spot to sit and enjoy the beach in this area.

How To Visit Shell Key

Shell Key Preserve, Florida. 
Shell Key Preserve

The primary ways to reach Shell Key is by boat or by kayak, of which the Shell Key Ferry launches daily from Fort DeSoto and has a fee of $25 per person. As I mention earlier, when taking a kayak out, be sure to review your map prior to departure. The kayak ride can take up to an hour to reach Shell Key, depending upon where you launch from. So remember to bring enough water, sunscreen, and snacks. There are kayak rental kiosks when you enter the Fort DeSoto Park and pay the entrance fee.

Views on Shell Key Preserve, Florida


Shelling is an incredibly fun activity for anyone to do! I think we enjoy it so much because of the thrill of not knowing what treasures we might find. Since we came to Florida, we’ve been collecting shells and sand dollars for some time now. Although there are several shells that are similar, you can occasionally find a unique and rare shell or treasure piece.

Shelling at Shell Key, Florida.  Fitlifeandtravel.com

Shell Types

There are a numerous amount of shell types with all kinds of colors, shapes, and sizes found on the ocean (Gulf of Mexico) floor and the shorelines. Certain shells are native to particular areas, but you can find just about any variation or type of shell on any beach. Especially after a storm or sometimes early in the morning. Here are some items I found recently at Shell Key Preserve.

Cockle Shells

These round shaped shells are in abundance in some beaches throughout the state. Cockle shells are quite common to find around this area. They come in all sizes! In fact, there are a few dead trees that have the cockle shells hanging on the limbs on the island. It is quite a site. I didn’t have my camera with me on this part of the island because we just went for a walk along the shore to see the island was like.

We look forward to continuing our quest for more shells and other sea treasures at Shell Key, so stay tuned to see what we find next!

Cockle Shells. Shell Key, FL. Fitlifeandtravel.com
Cockle Shells
Sand Dollar Shells

This shell comes from the marine creature; the Sand Dollar. Many times you can find them alive buried at the surface of the ocean floor. Their color is brown when they are live. I usually put these creatures back into the water close to where I found them. If found not alive, they are usually white in color, they are flat and a roundish shape.

Lettered Olive Shell

This smaller shell is somewhat circular is shape and has a shiny tone to it. I didn’t find a whole lot of these types on this day.

Lettered Olive Shell. Shell Key Preserve, FL.  FitlifeandTravel.com
Lettered Olive Shell
Sunray Venus Clam Shells
Sunray Venus Clam Shells. Shell Key, Florida.  Fitlifeandtravel.com
Sunray Venus Clam Shells Shell Key Preserve

The hard clam shell industry has grown dramatically in the last ten years throughout Florida. This species is being farmed in various parts of the state. This glossy, shell with salmon pink to brown gray in color, can be found in abundance around Shell Key Preserve.

Pecten Raveneli
Pecten Ravenleli. 
best beaches to find sea shells in Florida
#ShellingwithShannon Shells from Shell Key Preserve, Florida

When you think of seashells, this is the shell that you might think of. The round fan like shape, with flat bottom, and a cup like characteristic. We found a few different colors in this shell type. These make great pieces to use if you are creating sea life art.

Shells found on Shell Key Preserve Florida

The list of shells go on. From the elegant dosinia to the buttercup; the shells you can find are vast and are interestingly beautiful!


It is most certainly a joy to watch others as well as yourself take part in shelling along the shores to find nature’s treasures. Going on a treasure hunt via a kayak ride to a deserted island is my kind of adventure! Stay tuned and be ready for more shelling adventures as we take you out to the different beaches around Florida to search for shells, shark teeth, and other sea life creatures! Bookmark and keep checking in to see what treasures we find next!


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  1. What a beautiful collection you have there! and what a great way to travel around that area.

    1. Thanks so Linda! We have even more shells collected from other beaches, I can’t wait to post them. We are now off to a new beach to search for Shark Teeth!! Thanks for reading!

  2. Such a simple pleasure. As adults, it’s easy to forget how we saw the world through a child’s eyes. This is a great reminder.

  3. I love this idea! We’re always looking for new experiences on our trips to Florida, and this looks perfect. Can’t wait to hear about your further shelling adventures and finds.

    1. Definitely add this activity to your adventure list! Also, when visiting Florida, you can go hunting for prehistoric shark teeth too! It is so much fun and interesting finds in earth’s nature treasures!

  4. As kids we used to love shelling on the Adriatic beaches when we were on summer holidays. I had to check what sand dollar means in German (my mother tongue) and found that it means Sanddollar, which doesn’t really help haha…. They look like such fascinating animals. I think I’d have a brilliant time kayaking around Shell Key. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, I think you would enjoy the water activities around here! They are certainly a lot warmer than probably what you are used to! Shelling has been so much fun, it makes us feel like kids again!

  5. I never knew the area had sucha variety of shels, all so intricate and with distinct shapes. I’ve never done kayaking – maybe it’s time that I should.

    1. Oh yes, it seems that each beach we visit, the shells are slightly different; but you can find alot of the same shells as well. Definitely.. go kayaking. It is such an amazing thing to do in nature!

  6. The Florida Gulf side has the best shells. I haven’t kayaked out to Shell Island, but for those that want to drive to a good shell beach, Honeymoon Island isn’t too far and you can stop in Tarpon Springs for a Greek lunch.

    1. Oh, kayaking out to Shell Island is soooo fun! We are finding some pretty shells, hoping to find more and bigger ones. I will make a note of Honeymoon Island.. and venture up to Tarpon Springs! Thanks for the tip!

  7. You’ve got me thinking about shelling now! What beautiful treasures and the thought of finding sharks teeth, is that for real?! I want to find sand dollars too! What a perfect kayaking adventure. I am saving all these as I’m keen to get back to Florida. It looks a perfect day out love the thought of having the island practically to ourselves, and the birdwatching.

    1. It is so fun! I hope you get back to Florida, we are having a ball here. There is so much adventure, activities, and dining etc. around here. Finding the sand dollars is so much fun. I am collecting the shells so I can make some crafts,.. I hope to share them when I get time to make something. Yes, the shark teeth hunting is a blast! You scoop up a handful or shovel full of the ocean bottom and sift through earth’s treasures! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment my friend!

  8. What a lovely way to travel and so many great finds. The shells are really beautiful. I remember visiting Florida when I was a child and was so excited to find a sand dollar!

    1. I think that’s why we love it so much,.. it reminds us of being kids. My hubby dived for shells and sand dollars as a kid right at the very beaches we are going to now. Its very cool! Thanks for reading!

  9. How much fun is this! We looked for shells on Sanibel Island when we lived in Fort Myers. Venice Beach was also a fun place for tons of sharks teeth. Fun, fun, fun

    1. Yes, you were right about those shark teeth in Venice! We went over to Sanibel a couple weeks ago, and it was difficult finding parking but eventually found a spot and paid. We found some nice shells as well. We are having so much fun, and we feel like we are kids again! Lol!

  10. What a beautiful place! Never made it to Florida or any of the keys. This kayaking adventure looks incredible!

    1. Oh, Florida has so much to offer! Nature, adventure, dining, beaches, art and culture! I think you would enjoy it Lannie! 🙂

  11. What a fun day (even with a little detour)! My daughter lives in St. Pete and we usually kayak around the area but this would be a new adventure!

    1. We had so much fun! Yes,.. you guys need to do this little adventure to Shell Key! We usually launch from that little discrete area where a few cars park and launch just before the entrance gate to Fort DeSoto. Thanks so much for reading!

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