For the best times to look for shells — and other beachcombing tips from North Carolina experts — click here.
You’ll need to boat or kayak to this pristine island and its surrounding sandbars, the crown jewel of Hammocks Beach State Park near Swansboro, to look for a bounty of Scotch bonnets, whelks, and sand dollars — just make sure the sand dollars are no longer alive before you keep them! Thanks to Bear and Bogue Inlets, which bookend the island, strong currents keep the shore well-stocked with washed-up ocean treasures.
The crystal-clear water around the barrier islands of this uninhabited and protected seashore makes it an excellent place to find big whelks, bay scallops, and Scotch bonnets.
The northernmost beach in North Carolina can only be accessed by four-wheel drive, meaning you’ll have less competition when looking for olives, periwinkles, coquinas, and more. Its shallow shoreline also slopes gently, meaning shells are more likely to wash up unbroken.
Just south of Carova, look for whelks, calico scallops, and sea glass. Also prized and prevalent after storms: fulgurite. Although they may look like lumps of concrete in the sand, each piece of fulgurite is the result of lightning striking the beach, melting and fusing sand into a hardened rock.
Head to the east end of Holden Beach — a dynamic location along Lockwoods Folly Inlet — to hunt for saw-toothed pens, olives, sand dollars, conchs, whelks, shark teeth, and more in ankle-deep water during low tide.
Take a quick ferry ride from Beaufort to Shackleford Banks to explore and gather sand dollars, olive shells, and more. Plus, see one of the last isolated groups of wild horses in the country while you look.
Each tide brings new finds onto the shores of Topsail Island, and fossilized shark teeth are some of the most treasured. Common shark species include lemon, great white, bull, snaggletooth, and tiger sharks — and, of course, the elusive, enormous megalodon.
South of Ocracoke, on the watery, windy edge of the state, is one of the last few wild, uninhabited islands along our coast. It isn’t easy to reach, but you’ll be rewarded if you do: The beach is often littered with treasures from the sea — whelks, cockles, pen shells, Scotch bonnets, and sand dollars.