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The incredible coastline of California features some of the best shelling beaches in the world. Nothing soothes the soul like a day spent wandering a sandy beach in search of hidden treasures.
Growing up in a small northern California coastal town, I have spent many days on the beach discovering sand dollars, sea glass, and shells that have washed up from the pacific ocean.
Once you find your first treasure hiding in the sand, you will be hooked! To spot shells on the beach, you should first know what beaches you should start looking at, because not all California beaches have shells.
You should also be aware of the laws that protect the beaches, so that you know what you can and can’t take home. As you plan to search for shells, use this list of beaches. These are the best beaches to find seashells in California.
Map of Beaches With Shells in California
Click here to view an interactive map of all the California beaches with shells that are listed below.
1. Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach is the perfect destination for finding shells. Known as one of the top shelling beaches on the West Coast of the USA. This is the best beach in California to visit if you want to find ocean treasures.
This beautiful white sand beach is located about an hour north of San Francisco. Stinson Beach is one of Northern California’s most famous beach towns, and the beach itself offers over three miles of wide sandy shores for a chance to find sea shells, sand dollars and even sea glass!
Best For: Soft white sand, sand dollars, sea shells, and sea glass.
Amenities: Free parking, two public restrooms, and showers.
Beach Hours: Entrance gates opens at 9:00 am closing times vary depending on the season.
Parking: There are three parking lots that offer FREE parking, but on busy weekends they can fill up fast. Plan on arriving early to make sure you get a spot.
2. Silver Strand State Beach
Located just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, Silver Strand State Beach is a favorite spot for locals and visitors for collecting seashells in southern California.
For the best chances of finding shells, visit the side of the beach that faces the bay and go all the way south. Make sure you arrive early because the shells get taken fast at this popular shelling beach.
You can expect to find snail shells, cockle shells, and even sand dollars! So many beautiful treasures can be found on this incredible beach.
Best For: Warm waters, white sand, shells, and sand dollars.
Amenities: Restrooms, cold showers, tables, bbq pits, and fire rings.
Beach Hours: Gates open at 8 AM daily – close at 7 PM (winter) and 8:00 PM (spring/fall)
Parking: Four large parking lots. There is a parking / entrance fee of $10-15 per vehicle.
3. Shell Beach La Jolla
Just south of La Jolla Cove in San Diego, this Shell Beach is a popular place to spot explore tide pools and shells for locals and visitors. It is located at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park. There are some stairs that take you down to the beach.
It’s common to find shells on this beach because there is a reef structure just off shore, the shells of the sea life that call the reef home frequently wash up on this beach. You will find sea snails, limpets, shell fragments, clams, and periwinkles.
Just make sure you arrive early in the morning before others have already taken them. While you will have a higher chance of finding shells on this beach, since it is so small, the shells get picked up fast.
There are lots of large rocks on this beach, which is great for tidepooling, just be careful because the rocks can be very slippery.
Best For: Tide pools, clear water, snail shells, sea glass, small shells, and spotting sea lions.
Amenities: Nearby restrooms & large grassy park.
Beach / Park Hours: Open 24 hours.
Parking: There is free street parking along Coast Blvd (1-3 hours timed), but these spots fill up fast. There is a paid parking lot in the La Jolla Financial Building on Prospect Street.
4. Carpinteria State Beach
Carpinteria State Beach is a uncrowded beach near a cute little town. So if you’re looking for a place to take long peaceful walks along the shoreline while searching for shells, this is your beach!
Carpenteria is a picture perfect central coast beach town. The beach itself has over a mile of sandy shores. It is popular a beach for families, as it one of the safest beaches for swimming due to it’s calm water and gentle waves.
Here, you will often find many different varieties of shells, sand dollars, and sea glass. There are tide pools for exploring, and you might even see some sea lions. Just be sure not to take any shells home, take a photo of instead, becuase this is a protected area.
Best For: Tidepools, swimming, surfing, sand dollars, shells, and sea glass.
Amenities: Restrooms, play area, picnic area, and nearby campground.
Beach Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
Parking: $10 per vehicle entrance fee.
5. Crystal Cove State Beach
If you are looking for quiet beach with huge shells and goregous views, then you don’t want to miss out on visiting Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach.
Keep in mind, as with many other California State Beaches, this area is protected and you are not allowed to take any shells home with you.
Also, you are not allowed to touch, move or disturb and animals shells, or rocks. However, you are allowed to take driftwood and sea glass, or take photos of your finds.
With over 3 miles of shoreline you can spend the day walking the pristine beach, exploring tide pools, and enjoying the breathtaking view of the ocean and the California coast.
Best For: Tidepooling, conch shells, sea glass, cowry shells, and periwinkles.
Amenities: Restrooms, hiking trails, and paid parking.
Beach Hours: 6:00 a.m. to Sunset
Parking: $15 per vehicle entrance fee + $5 per hour parking fee ($15 daily max)
6. Crescent Beach
If you want to find sand dollars, then Crescent Beach is where you should visit! Located about 20 miles from the Oregon border just south of Crescent City, a small northern California beach town.
The beach offers easy uncrowded access and over three miles of a wide sandy stretch along the shoreline where you will find tons of sand dollars washed along the shore.
I have personally visited this beach many times, and on some days, when the tide is right I have found about 10 – 20 sand dollars. There are also many different shells, interesting rocks, and sometimes sea glass.
Best For: Sand Dollars, shells, walking, surfing.
Amenities: Restrooms fire pits & picnic benches.
Beach Hours: Open 24 hours.
Parking: Free parking lot near the beach, you can also park in gravel pullout areas along the beach.
7. Del Monte Beach
Tucked away on the backside of a small neighborhood in Monterey, Del Monte Beach is a local favorite. It is most known as a popular surfing and beachcoming destination for locals.
Enjoy the boardwalk through the dunes that leads out to the beach. Once on the beach you can stroll the clean white sands as you search for different types of sea shells and sea glass.
This beach has an incredible view of Monterey and Pacific Grove, and it’s tucked away location keeps it sheltered from the wind.
This is an great beach for shelling. Just make sure that you arrive early and give yourself extra time because parking can be a challenge at this popular little beach.
Best For: Local Vibes, shells, surfing, sunbathing, picnicking & beachcombing.
Amenities: Bathrooms, picnic tables & boardwalk through dunes.
Beach Hours: Sunrise to sunset.
Parking: Free parking is available along the street next the beach.
FAQ About California Beaches With Shells
Can you take shells from California beaches?
It depends on what beach you are visiting. Some beaches are protected by state and federal laws that prevent taking shells, sand, sea glass or rocks. Other beaches might allow you to collect certain types of shells or sea glass. It’s important to check the local regulations for the beach that you plan on visiting.
Most Beaches located within State Park do not allow you to disturb the environment or take anything with you.
Shells are an important part of the ocean ecosystem. They provide shelter and minerals that are needed by animals. When collecting shells from a beach that does allow shell collecting, make sure you check the shell to be sure that there is not a living snail, hermit crab or other animal hidden deep inside.
What beach in California has the most seashells?
Stinson Beach, near San Franscio is known for being one of the best beaches for finding shells on the west coast. Near the north end of the beach at low tide, you will often find sand dollars and shells.
Where are sand dollars found in California?
The best California beaches for finding Sand Dollars include Stinson Beach, Crescent Beach, and Silver Strand State Beach.
When is the best time to find shells on the beach?
To find the most shells, you should check the local tide times and plan on visiting the beach during low tide or when the tide is going out. Try to go as early in the morning as possible, before other people arrive. Just before sunrise at low tide would be one of the best times for finding shells.
You will also find more shells washed up on the beach after a full moon, or a big storm because the stronger tides wash more shells up onto the shore.
California Beach-Combing Rules
Each beach in California has it’s own local rules. In general, it is illegal to take sand, disturb the environment, or remove anything that is living from all of California’s beaches.
Some beaches will allow for collecting of certain non-living items such as sea glass, drift wood, or shells in small quantities.
When shelling in California it’s best to take only photos of your treasures, and leave them in thier natural environment for others to enjoy.
If you really want to take shells or sea glass home, just make sure that you check the local rules and regulations before visiting.