Portsmouth IslandNorth Carolina This uninhabited island on the Outer Banks offers a treasure trove of seashells, Burgard says. The holy grail is the Scotch bonnet, which is North Carolina’s state shell. “You have to take boats to get there.” It’s a little easier to visit nearby Ocracoke and Cape Island National Seashore, where the shelling is impressive too. More information: visitocracokenc.com
Silver Strand State BeachCoronado, California
Shelling is so popular here that locals have coined a name for beachcombers’ posture while they’re on the hunt: “the Sanibel stoop.” Some shellers even carry a special scoop to pick up their finds. The Gulf Coast island near Fort Myers benefits from its east-west orientation. “People think it catches shells differently,” Burgard says.
More information: sanibel-captiva.org
For the best shelling in Texas, head north of South Padre’s hotels to find miles of undeveloped beachfront, Burgard says. It’s possible to drive on the beach here, and to sign up for a shell tour. She suggests looking for sea beans (also called drift seeds), which come from tropical plants that float north from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
More information: sopadre.co
For shellers, sundials are a tough find. But they regularly turn up on this barrier island’s white sand beaches near the entrance to Mobile Bay, and not far from Fort Morgan and popular Gulf Shores. “It’s one of the few places I hear about people finding them,” Burgard says. But the appeal is much more than the flat disc shells. “It’s a really relaxed island. It’s the kind of place where people go back, their children go and their grandchildren.”
More information: dauphinislandtourism.com
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
On Martha’s Vineyard, shellers seek the Northern Quahog, sometimes called chowder shells. They were also used to make decorative wampum beads. “The northern beaches have these heavier shells. They don’t have as many highly decorative shells,” Burgard says.
More information: capecodchamber.org
Although Pacific Northwest beachcombers aren’t as likely to find shells, many treasures still turn up on its shores. “A lot of these beaches are much more pebble-oriented. You can find beautiful ones,” Burgard says. Beachcombers also find sea stars and mussels.
More information: lummi-island.com
The shelling’s so popular here that many call the distinctive Imperial Venus clam the Pawleys Island shell. And Burgard loves the area too. “It’s much more a true old beach community where you go because you love being with your family and the pure experience. The waves are pretty gentle.”
More information: pawleysisland.com
Maryland and Virginia
Home to a Maryland state park and a national seashore, this Atlantic island has plenty of wide-open space to hunt for shells. Highlights include knobbed whelks, jingle shells, scallops and coquinas. Plus there’s also a chance to catch sight of the ponies that live on the island. “There’s just the wildness of it. These are great places to find shells,” Burgard says.
More information: nps.gov/asis and dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/pages/eastern/assateague.aspx