Don’t Miss Out on the Annual Shell Festival in Sanibel Island

On an island 12 miles long, home to several beautiful beaches, you would expect there to be lots of shells, and that’s just what you’ll find on Sanibel Island beaches. With Sanibel Island among the top-ranking beaches in North America for shelling (the act of bending over to retrieve a shell is referred to as the “Sanibel Stoop”), there is lots of cause for celebration, and that’s just what the Shell Festival Sanibel is all about.

The Shell Festival is one of the most recognizable events in Sanibel Island each year. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area in early March, make it a point to attend the Shell Festival as one of many things to do in Sanibel Island, along with visiting the Sanibel Island Shell Museum.

As unique as the Shell Festival itself, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Captiva Road in Sanibel is recognized as “the only accredited museum in the United States devoted solely to shells and mollusks.” Visitors can walk the Great Hall of Shells, learning along the way about these items as well as animals associated with them; see and touch live mollusks as well as sea hares, cuttlefish, fighting conch, and a giant octopus in the aquarium; watch a mollusk movie, and even participate in a scavenger hunt.

Once you have chosen from among the many Sanibel Island condo rentals, such as our Sanibel Island beachfront rentals, you won’t have far to go to do your shelling! Be sure to clear a few hours to join in on the celebration of one of the island’s most abundant and precious treasures at the Shell Festival and follow up with a visit to the Museum, which is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

sanibel island shell festival

The World’s Largest Shell Festival

Not only is the Sanibel Island Annual Shell Festival the largest of its kind, but it’s also the longest-running!

The Annual Shell Festival marks its astounding 85th year in saluting the shells. The show began as a Community Fair in 1928, held on the porch of the Old Island Inn. Several ladies hosting the event brought boxes of shells to show attendees. Since the shells had garnered much interest, the act was repeated the following year, resulting in a more significant draw for the fair. By the early 1930s, several men in the community decided to build the Community House to hold the now annual event.

This is the same Community House standing today, still hosting the Annual Shell Festival. This year, more than 3,500 are expected to be in attendance, with four food booths, thousands of arts and crafts made by professional and novice artists, and, as always, a raffle to raise money for the Community House. Typically, an item of shell art is raffled.

When & Where

In 2022, the Annual Shell Festival is set to occur between March 3rd and March 5th at the Sanibel Community House and is brought to you by the Sanibel Shell Club, which has existed since 1961. Sponsors for the annual Sanibel Shell Show help raise funds for grants and other programs to colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations that oversee projects relating to the ocean and environment. Some past recipients of such grants have been students majoring in marine science attending local colleges.

Admission is $1 – $5 (suggested donation to view exhibits), payable by cash or credit card. Proceeds help the Community House, part of the Sanibel Community Association. The Community House hosts educational, cultural, and other events throughout the year, such as arts and crafts fairs and classes, shell craft lessons, community socials, book discussions, and Audubon lectures.

Items such as jewelry, Sailor’s Valentines (shelled wooden boxes), shell critters, and other shell crafts are created and displayed, and sold at the festival. In 2021, a live mollusk tank was on display! Local experts are on hand to answer questions and explain live shells.

shells for sanibel island event

The Beaches

As you might expect, the largest celebration of seashells in the world is held in a location where shells are in abundance. Sanibel Island beaches draw shellers from all over the world. Types of shells on Sanibel Island you might find are conch, lightning whelk, Junonia, cockle, tulip, coquina, olive, scallops, sand dollars, and murex. Those who find Junonia shells at Sanibel Island actually have their pictures taken for the local newspaper!

First, there’s Sanibel Island’s Lighthouse Beach Park. This large, soft-sand, often crowded beach experiences many shells washing up onshore. However, the site’s popularity often leads to many being picked up, so you might typically find only standard shells here.

Bowman’s Beach is more secluded. While somewhat challenging to reach, it’s a great place for shelling, most notably the further from the parking lot and the trail leading to it. You can also head to Blind Pass Beach and Turner Beach. On the western tip of the island, strong currents are not good for swimmers but lead to a treasure trove for shellers, as those currents carry many to the shore. Just across from Blind Pass Beach is Turner Beach, at the southern end of Captiva Island. Here there are strong currents, too, but it’s safe to wade a bit to do some excellent shelling. Shells also pile up at the rock jetty at Turner Beach so that you can hit the shell jackpot at this spot.

Plan Your Next Stay

Contact us today to book your stay on beautiful Sanibel Island! Check out our available Sanibel Island condos and plan your dream trip.

Silver Key Beach is another isolated spot rich with shells. You’ll have to wade a bit here, too, but it’s so worth it. You might also see some Sanibel Island wildlife. Alternatively, there’s Gulfside City Park Beach. This beach is a great family site with picnic tables and barbecue grills, so if you’re bringing the kids shelling, this is a great option. You might even come across a rare silver dollar on this stretch of beach.

Finally, we’ve got Tarpon Bay Beach. The high sands of this beach set it apart from the other beaches, as you can find a variety of shells here that you might not come across elsewhere on the island. Tarpon Bay is located mid-island.

Book Your Sanibel Island Rental

Proximity to Sanibel Island beaches is ideal when it comes to Sanibel Island rentals, as you’ll undoubtedly be spending much time relaxing in the sand, taking in the sun, and hunting for shells. Many of Sandalfoot’s one- and two-bedroom Sanibel Island condo rentals are close to the most popular beach sites and provide great views of the Gulf. 

These cozy, custom-designed accommodations are close to most attractions and events and offer such amenities as full kitchens with full-size appliances, high-speed WiFi, screened balconies, private screened lanai, flat-screen TVs, and washer/dryer in the unit. A sleeper sofa allows even one- and two-bedroom condos to comfortably sleep up to six guests. Some condo units have been fully renovated!

Other amenities to add to your comfort and convenience are beach chairs/towels, central air, a heated swimming pool, barbecue grills, free on-site laundry, and assigned and guest parking spots. Are you looking for some fun at your condo site? There are shuffleboard, tennis, and pickleball courts, with balls and rackets available at the office.



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