Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my special-needs dog, and my traveling habit. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. All opinions are my own.
Interested in planning a shelling vacation in Southwest Florida? Lucky for you, a reader recently reached out by email looking for my input on where she should go, what she should do, where she should eat, and where should she sleep. I’m sharing my response with you! I could probably write a book on planning a shelling vacation in Southwest Florida but I did my best to provide my best recommendations in an email.
Things to Know Before Planning a Shelling Vacation in Southwest Florida
When anyone asks for my advice on planning a Southwest Florida shelling vacation, I preface my response by saying I’m very familiar with the Sarasota and Charlotte Counties areas. I used to work for the tourism offices and spent years in both destinations marketing and creating itineraries. This includes Venice (Sarasota County), Manasota Key and Englewood Beach (Charlotte and Sarasota Counties).
A shelling trip to Southwest Florida should include an introduction to Florida’s environment and the various ecosystems. Before heading to any of the beaches or aquatic activities, check the opens in a new windowred tide status on the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website. If you have respiratory issues, you’ll want to stay away from those areas with red tide. But, conditions literally change with the winds.
Other things to keep in mind when planning your trip:
- NEVER collect live seashells, this includes live sand dollars and sea urchins. If there’s a critter living inside a shell, gently put it down.
- If you’re into fresh seafood, stone crab season runs through May 15 and Everglades City is the Stone Crab Capital of the World!
- Hurricane season is June 1 – Nov. 30 and summer is the rainy season.
- June 21 is National Sea Shell Day
- August 30 is National Beach Day
- Key lime is the official state pie of Florida.
- Often on Sunday nights, most beaches have drum circles before sunset.
- During late spring, summer and fall, keep in mind, no-see ums may prevalent on the beaches. opens in a new windowAvon’s Skin So Soft works great!
- If you’re visiting from outside of the Southeast, late spring, summer and fall are hot and humid in Southwest Florida, although Gulf breezes help a bit. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and a hat. Pace yourself with outdoor activities.
If you choose, begin your Southwest Florida shelling trip in Tampa, not that you’ll find lots of shelling, but it has a rich history and delicious culinary scene. Plus, you may find a better airfare into Tampa International Airport than some of the other Southwest Florida Cities. And, it’s only about an hour drive to the Sarasota area.
The historic Ybor City neighborhood is a must when visiting Tampa and if you’re up for it, opens in a new windowstep foot on Cuban soil without leaving the city! While there, taste the area by grabbing a Cuban sandwich at opens in a new windowGaspar’s Grotto or enjoy the 1905 salad at the opens in a new window Columbia Restaurant. are good places to “taste the area.” Or, you may want to join one of the opens in a new windowTampa Bay Food Tours.
Visit the opens in a new windowFlorida Aquarium for a good place to build a foundation to understand Florida’s habitats. Not too far is the opens in a new windowClearwater Aquarium. Have you seen or heard of the movie opens in a new windowA Dolphin’s Tale? It’s based on the real-life story of Winter the Dolphin and she lives here, not too far from Tampa.
Tampa doesn’t have beaches but the opens in a new windowSt. Petersburg/Clearwater area does. For a different experience, head to opens in a new windowCaladesi Island State Park, only accessible by boat. In year’s past, it made Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches in the U.S. list.
Nearby is opens in a new windowTarpon Springs , the Sponge Capital of the World. Visit the sponge docks and take a boat tour to learn about the area’s sponge history. While there, you’ll also experience the area’s Greek heritage.
Head south of Tampa to the opens in a new windowSarasota area. Not only is it home to Siesta Key, which has been named America’s top beach, it’s also an eclectic foodie and art town. There is so much to do in Sarasota but for those who appreciate art and beaches, some highlights are…
opens in a new windowRingling Museum – Circus magnate John Ringling made Sarasota his winter home with his wife Mable. The Ringling Brothers Circus wintered here and almost a century later, his legacy thrives throughout the area. He gifted his home and art collection to the state of Florida. Other museums on the Ringling grounds are the Ca’ d’Zan (the House of John where he and Mable lived) and the Circus Museum. Admission into the art museum is free on Mondays.
opens in a new windowSarasota Art Museum – Sarasota is known as Florida’s Cultural Coast and this modern art museum opened in Dec. 2019, complementing the Ringling Museum and other arts and culture organizations in the area. Admission into the museum is free the last Sunday of the month.
opens in a new windowMote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium – Keeping with the sea theme for shelling, visit the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to learn more about the local aquatic habitats and sea life.
In Sarasota, if you’re seeking something casual, there’s any one of the opens in a new windowOld Salty Dog restaurants and opens in a new windowOwen’s Fish Camp. For a quirky experience there’s opens in a new windowBob’s Train restaurant. Bob used to work in the circus and these are old circus train cars. It’s a fascinating place and the food is delicious. Sarasota is also home to an Amish-Mennonite community so there are several Amish restaurants, like opens in a new windowYoder’s and opens in a new windowDer Dutchman.
As for the beaches, opens in a new windowSiesta Key Beach topped opens in a new windowDr. Beach’s top beach list and is gorgeous but not much shelling. Walking barefoot over the white quartz sand is something you must do. Nearby Lido Beach offers some shelling. To get to Lido Beach, you’ll drive through opens in a new windowSt. Armands Circle, a popular shopping and dining district.
The heart of Siesta Key’s village is cute with independently-owned boutiques and restaurants. Stay here and pedal a bicycle to get around. For dining, the opens in a new windowSiesta Key Oyster Bar and opens in a new windowDaiquiri Deck Siesta Key Village are fun favorites.
At the southern end of the key is opens in a new windowTurtle Beach Resort & Inn. Next to them is opens in a new windowOphelia on the Bay restaurant which is outstanding. If you’re looking for one place to dine in Sarasota, this is it. If you’re lucky, you’ll grab a spot on the deck overlooking the Intracoastal waterway.
Travel south to Venice, the opens in a new windowShark Tooth Capital of the World. Before stopping in Venice, head to Casey Key and Nokomis Beach, Sarasota County’s oldest public beach. It has a great, Old Florida feel.
Next, head to Caspersen Beach to walk the beach and look for small, black shiny triangles – those are fossilized shark teeth! In downtown Venice, watch out for sharks! If you don’t watch your step, you may trip over one. Well, probably not, but keep an eye out for the opens in a new windowVenice Shark Spotting public art display and spot all 10 bronze sharks.
Head further south to Manasota Key for more shark tooth collection along the beaches. There’s been a beach renourishment and shelling has been minimal at the beaches (Manasota Beach, Blind Pass Beach and Englewood Beach*), but that can change with the winds. opens in a new windowStump Pass Beach State Park is located at the southern end of Manasota Key. Parking is limited which limits visitation (there’s an entrance fee into the park). Next to the park is the opens in a new windowWannaB Inn which is an old Florida type-resort and perfect place to base all or part of your Southwest Florida shelling vacation.
While visiting Manasota Key and Englewood Beach, take a kayaking trip to opens in a new windowDon Pedro Island State Park with opens in a new windowHooked on SUP (the park is only accessible by boat and along the way you’ll examine sea life. Sometimes there’s good shelling at the park). Or, head over to Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island and take an eco-tour or rental in a clear-bottom kayaks with opens in a new windowGlass Bottom Boat Rentals. Their sunset and evening trip is an outstanding and memorable experience! They also offer guided tours of Boca Grande via golf cart. (there’s a $6 toll to access Gasparilla Island.)
Hooked on SUP also offers trips elsewhere from Stump Pass Beach State Park. If you are lucky enough to stay on the beach, or if you’re cool with early wakeup calls, every morning at 8:30 a.m. is beach yoga on Englewood Beach with opens in a new windowLoving Light Yoga.
Eateries with terrific beach vibes on Manasota Key are opens in a new windowLock ‘N Key Restaurant, opens in a new windowSandBar Tiki & Grille, and opens in a new windowThe Waverly Restaurant & Bar. Other delicious, waterfront restaurants in Englewood are opens in a new windowBeach Road Wine Bar & Bistro and opens in a new windowFarlow’s on the Water. There’s also opens in a new windowMango Bistro on Dearborn Street, for a delicious lunch stop.
*Note about beaches in the Englewood Beach area: although parking at Manasota Beach and Blind Pass Beach are free, parking at Englewood Beach is 75 cents an hour. Download the opens in a new windowParkMobile app to pay.
If you can’t get to the beach, take a look at the opens in a new windowEnglewood Beach beach cam and dream about being there.
Detour: Shark Tooth Hunting in DeSoto County
If you’re into collecting fossilized shark teeth, you may want to venture into the Peace River. You can either do it alone or rent a canoe through opens in a new windowCanoe Outpost in Arcadia or join a group. I’ve been with opens in a new windowfossil hunter Mark Renz a couple of times and had a blast! I’ve also paddled with Canoe Outpost and although I haven’t blogged about it yet, I’ve already planned another trip. In addition to fossilized shark teeth, I found fossilized sand dollars! Keep in mind, Peace River water levels need to be low so summer is not an ideal time to fossil in the river because the rainy season causes levels to rise. If you won’t be joining a guide and fossiling on your own, you’ll need a opens in a new windowFlorida Fossil Permit from the University of Florida to collect vertebrate fossils. It’s $5 and takes about 2 weeks to receive.
Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island
Traveling south toward the opens in a new windowFt. Myers & Sanibel, stop at the opens in a new windowShell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers. This is the world’s largest shell factory and a place I remember visiting when I was a kid. Find row after row of seashells and sometimes on display are items made of seashells, like a suit. Or golf cart. Or who knows! It’s grown since I first visited in the 1970s and quite a place to visit, especially if you’re into seashells. As you head towards Sanibel, stop off at Matlacha and visit opens in a new windowLeoma Lovegrove’s Gallery & Gardens. It’s a vibrant, colorful, and uplifting trip!
Continue on to Sanibel and Captiva Islands. (There’s a $6 toll.) Begin your your shell-tastic journey at the opens in a new windowBailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. To help you breakdown how and where to shell on Sanibel, check out these articles:
- opens in a new windowThe 7 Best Beaches for Shelling on Sanibel Island
- opens in a new windowShelling
- opens in a new windowThe Sanibel 6 Seashells
- opens in a new windowWhat the Heck is Shelling
Once you hit the Sanibel beaches, I’m sure you’ll perfect the Sanibel Stoop quickly. This is the hunched over position people walk in when hunting for seashells.
As for dining, try the opens in a new windowIsland Cow and opens in a new windowDoc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grilleopens WORD file on Sanibel Island and the opens in a new windowBubble Room Restaurant and opens in a new windowMucky Duck on Captiva Island.
Be sure to pick up the book opens in a new window100 Things to do in Fort Myers & Sanibel Before You Die by Nancy Hamilton to find other gems.
Note: Parking fees apply
Further south is opens in a new windowMarco Island and gateway to the Everglades. For a sensational shelling trip, join opens in a new windowTreasure Seeker Shell Tours where you can apply all that you’ve learned on this journey and collect seashells galore!
Happy shelling! Following are a list of tourism offices which will offer more resources:
- opens in a new windowVisit Tampa
- opens in a new windowVisit St. Petersburg & Clearwater
- opens in a new windowVisit Sarasota
- opens in a new windowPunta Gorda/Englewood Beach
- opens in a new windowBeaches of Ft. Myers & Sanibel
- opens in a new windowNaples, Marcos & Everglades
Check opens in a new windowAirbnb Experiences to see if anyone is offering guided trips to search for fossilized shark teeth or shells.