We want to see seashells on the sea shore
March 3, 2013 6:29 PM   Subscribe

This June, we will be visiting family in the Ocala FL area, and would like to take our three year old to the beach to look for shells and splash around. Where should we go?

We will have a car, but prefer to keep it to a day trip. Should we head to the Gulf of Mexico or go Atlantic side? It looks like about two hours either way.

We are looking for calm, family friendly beaches where we might find some shells.

Bonus points for finding someplace that might rent beach a tents/canopy, as we have a sun sensitive family member.
posted by Nickel Pickle to Travel & Transportation around Florida (10 answers total)
I wouldn't go to the Gulf around there. I only went to Cedar Key once, but to me, it was not very nice--sort of smelly with water just pushing up detritus and foam. I'm also not so fond of Daytona, because spring breakers and cars on the beach. Possibly Ormond-By-The-Sea would be nice (certainly, it's beautiful to drive past the parts you can see directly from A1A), but I don't know how much public access and parking there is--I would research that if it's on the path you expected taking. In college, my wife and I used to prefer going to Crescent Beach, and we've also stopped and splashed around a few blocks south of Marineland. If either of the latter are possible, you might enjoy making St. Augustine (the fort and/or the Alligator Farm) part of the day trip rather than burn up on the beach the whole day.

While you're in Ocala, I would also recommend going to Rainbow Springs for swimming (etc.) and Homosassa Springs for the zoo.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:55 PM on March 3, 2013

Sanibel Island (Gulf side)is supposed to be the best shelling in all of Florida but it may be farther than you want to go. When we were there 25 years ago there were so many shells you had to wear shoes to walk to the water. You have to hit the beach at dawn to get any of the really good shells though - lots of serious shell collectors go there. You will absolutely need some kind of sun protection. I got one of the worst sunburns ever in only 20 minutes. We happened to be there in March during a spring tide (the highest high tide) and the beach was not very wide but at least it was not crowded at all.
posted by LiverOdor at 7:49 PM on March 3, 2013

You'll probably have to go at least down to Clearwater on the Gulf side to get to a good shelling beach. Most of the coastline north of there is swampy and/or brackish, not beachy at all (like Monsieur Caution said of Cedar Key).
The Atlantic coast has shells but it can be hit or miss. St Augustine Beach, Flagler, Ormond all may be good. Ponce Inlet (South of Daytona) has a nice park with picnicing facilities. Not sure about the shell count though. It's a small town with a Marine Science Center and a lighthouse.
If you go to a beach that has oceanfront hotels or condos (like Ormond) you can probably rent an umbrella and beach chair easily.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 8:17 PM on March 3, 2013

Seconding St. Augustine. It's got a nice historic downtown (Killian's ice cream shop!), clean beaches, and an alligator farm attraction that's quite nice. Not a lot of shells, but the Gulf side up there is scuzzy indeed.
posted by Specklet at 11:44 PM on March 3, 2013

Thirding St. Augustine. By far the best shell-hunting in the South Beaches (all the beaches south of St. Augustine Inlet) is at Matanzas Inlet. That area is also conveniently located to some neat attractions: Fort Matanzas is across the street from the beach, Washington Oaks Gardens and Marineland are both just down the road, Moses Creek Conservation Area is right over the 206 bridge, and St. Augustine itself, with all of its myriad fun things to do, is 20 minutes north on A1A.

I lived in St. Augustine for most of my life and was a beach lifeguard there for six years, so if you've got any questions about the area feel free to get in touch. My email address is in my profile.
posted by saladin at 5:03 AM on March 4, 2013

Addendum: I'm told that the county just got done dredging St. Augustine Inlet, and pumped most of the sand on to the beach right near the pier, so that's also a possible shell-hunting spot, and is much closer to the town itself.
posted by saladin at 5:04 AM on March 4, 2013

St, Augustine it is. Thanks everyone!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:16 AM on March 4, 2013

Oh, I would opt for Sanibel over St. Augustine. The sand is powder white (have not been since the big oil spill a couple years ago but don't think the oil got down that far) and the shells were great. The gulf side is the only side that really has anything in the way of shells (and petrified sharks teeth if you are lucky). There are some decent beaches in the Sarasota area as well.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:37 AM on March 4, 2013

Oh and we had a lovely time and found lots of shells and sharks teeth at Stump Pass Beach State Park.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:45 AM on March 4, 2013

Sanibel isn't really a good choice, as i stated we want to do a day trip, and Sanibel is 4 hours away. St Augustine is less than 2.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2013

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