Outer Banks Beachcombers Guide To Finding Sea Shells


Seasoned beachcombers and shelling connoisseurs know that the Outer Banks of North Carolina are home to some of the best shelling. Do you?

Where exactly how do you go about scoring the best seashells on the OBX? We can help you with that!

Read on, coastal treasure hunters, read on.

Seashells Outer Banks NC Beachcombers Guide

Know the Best Locations on the Outer Banks

The good news is that some of the best shelling found on the East Coast is located on the barrier islands that run along the Atlantic. Guess what? The Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands along the North Carolina coastline, so you’re already on the right track.

Carova, thanks to its limited accessibility and shallow, sloping ocean floor line, makes a desirable shelling spot. Coquina Beach on the southern tip of Nags Head offers what its name promises: lots of coquina clam shells spread upon the shoreline. 

South Beach is located next to Cape Point in Buxton and is a south-facing beach, as its name suggests. It’s located at the southern end of the famous Hatteras Island hook, so conchs, whelks, and Scotch Bonnets are frequent.

If you’re up for a day trip to Ocracoke Island, you’ll quickly see why it’s named one of the 10 Best U.S. Shelling Beaches by Travel + Leisure.

Find the Ideal Conditions for Your Hunt

Once you know where to go, you must know when. Seashell hunting is part of skill and luck, but you can stack the odds in your favor by choosing the best times to search for seashells.

Tides: Just getting out there on the beaches and keeping a watchful eye is the first step. Going an hour before or after low tide is helpful so you can see what’s been washed up. Don’t forget to sift through any seaweed that’s been brought ashore to see what hidden treasures await you. You can find the local OBX Tide Charts here.

Moon Phase: Moon phases influence the tides, so shelling during a full moon or new moon can be helpful since the tides are most extreme at those times. You can find the local OBX Moon Phase Charts here.

Storms: One of the best but most unpredictable shelling conditions is after a storm. If a storm has just passed, you might want to see what’s been churned up on the beaches. You can often find buckets of beach treasures waiting to be scooped up. 


  1. Don’t rely on just the sandy shoreline.
  2. Go a bit deeper and get your feet wet.
  3. Check the ocean wash and the knee-deep waters to find some of the best and most abundant shells.

You have to have a keen eye and a quick hand, though. Those suckers move quickly!

Inlets: The inlets have a conversion of sound and ocean waters along with rushing, deep currents that can toss up various seashells. Keep your eye on the perimeter of the inlet and see what surfaces.

Have the Proper Shelling Tools for the OBX

One of the best things about shelling is that it’s a free endeavor that requires very little regarding tools. You have a pair of hands—put them to good use! You have two eyes, so keep them wide open.

You’ll probably want to bring a bag or bucket to keep your collected treasures. In fact, why not bring two buckets? One for your seashells and one for picking up trash you see during your seashell hunting adventure. You’ll be doing double duty! Some say that by doing so, you’ll not only help keep our beaches clean, but you’ll also bring some good karma in the form of fabulous finds.

So, why not?

Follow These Expert Seashell Hunting Tips

In addition to the above recommendations, we’ll throw in a few more expert shelling tips from the best beachcombers. Here’s what else you need to know to score the best shells on the Outer Banks.

Choose OBX accommodations on the beachfront. When you choose an oceanfront rental on the Outer Banks, you’re giving yourself prime access and the opportunity to get out on the beach and search for seashells. The more you get out there, the better your chances of scoring shells.

Go off the beaten path. Busier beaches tend to have fewer shells for apparent reasons. More people means there are fewer shells for you! Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and explore the less-frequented OBX beaches for the best selection and less competition.

Search during the off-season. Off-season on the Outer Banks is fabulous for many reasons, and excellent shelling is one of them. You’ll have ideal conditions, smaller crowds, gorgeous weather, and plenty of motivation to get out there and hunt for seashells. Please make the most of it!

Get a beach driving permit for the OBX. If you have a 4WD vehicle and an OBX beach driving permit. You can cover a lot of ground and make a reasonable time while hopping out when you spot a cluster of shells or a remarkable find. This is best done on the shoulder and off-seasons and only at places that allow vehicles to be on the beach.

Happy hunting!

Shop Outer Banks T Shirts

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published