How to Find the Best (and the Most) Shells on Topsail Island

Collecting seashells is a time-honored tradition for most beach goers. There’s the thrill of the hunt. The anticipation of what you might find. The optimistic search for that big, beautiful, unbroken shell that you can put on display when you get back home.

Hunting for shells is a beach activity that anyone can do and everyone will love. It requires no special equipment, doesn’t cost a thing, and provides new excitement each and every time you embark on a shelling adventure.

So where are the best shelling spots on Topsail Island? Where should you go to find the most shells? What else do you need to know before you hit the sand? The good news is that any ocean-facing beach is a wonderful place to find shells, so you’re already off to a good start just by being in Topsail, NC.

Go ahead and take your seashell hunting to the next level by checking out these Topsail shelling tips.

1. Check the tide level and Topsail beach conditions.

Before you head out of your Topsail vacation rental and onto the beach, you want to know what the weather conditions are—and particularly what time low tide is slated to occur. Here’s why.

  • Go shelling near low tide. The hour on both sides of low tide is the best time for finding shells with more beach available to search and the best opportunity to see what high tide left behind.
  • Scour the beach for shells after storms. After storms, especially those with strong easterly winds, a lot of shells are churned up and brought ashore. Shells wash ashore most frequently after major winter storms and tropical storms in summer and fall. The volume and variety of shells washed ashore after storms can be pretty astounding. Immediately after a storm the beach may be clean, but in a few days shells often begin to wash ashore on gentler waves. Stay vigilant!
  • Know the daily Topsail tide schedule. You can check this Topsail Island Tide Chart to know when you should be out on the sand searching for shells.

2. Go shelling as early and as often as you can.

As with any endeavor, you want to make sure you get the best results. Shelling can be a lesson in patience and endurance, but rest assured that the payoff is well worth your time and effort.

  • Get out on the beach early. You know how the saying goes: The early bird gets worm. Well the same applies to sea shells. Get out there early to avoid the crowds and up your odds of finding coastal treasures. You also want to get out there before others have had the opportunity to give the beach a once over. You’ll have less competition and a better chance of finding the good ones.
  • Be ready to go at the prime shelling times. Use that Topsail tide chart we referenced earlier to your advantage and be prepared to be on the beach on those hours that flank low tide. As the waters recede, you’ll be right where you need to be. Keep a close watch both on the sand and in the shallow waters for shells and other visible (sometimes buried) treasures.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Shelling requires dedication and a sharp eye.  Get out there as often as you can to increase your odds of finding the best and the most seashells. Don’t be dismayed if you don’t find anything your first time out. Shelling does involve time and chance—as well as being at the right place at the right time. The more you’re out there the better your chances will be!

3. Visit Topsail’s best shelling spots.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably get different answers to the question of “What are the best places to go shelling on Topsail Island?” But we can narrow down a few shelling hot spots on the island for you where seashells abound and where others have had success.

  • In tidal pools. When the tide recedes, those little pools of water that remain on the beach are an awesome place to find hidden treasures. Don’t overlook them on your search for shells, and don’t be afraid to put your hands in there (and get a bit wet and sandy) to see what you might find.
  • Near the piers. Some locals and vacationers have had great shelling success near the piers (there are three of them on Topsail Island—one in each town). Check around the pilings and under the pier itself to see what you might discover. The piers are busy places, so try to go before the fishing crowds arrive for the best chance of success.
  • At the extreme ends of the Topsail Island.  You definitely want to check out the northernmost tip of Topsail Island and the southern tip of this island (known as The Point), where there are less people in general and where there are good conditions to find those coveted seashells.

4. Know your North Carolina shells.

Knowledge is power so go ahead and brush up on your North Carolina seashell identification skills. It’s good to know what to look for and what you might find before you head out on the beach.

Here are some of the most popular NC shells that you might come across in your seashell hunt.

  • Auger Shells
  • Conch Shells
  • Coquina Clam Shells
  • Lightning and Channeled Whelks
  • Moon Snail Shells
  • Oyster Shells
  • Pen Shells
  • Sand Dollars
  • Scallop Shells
  • Scotch Bonnets
  • Slipper Shells
  • Tulip Shells

We also highly recommend you spend some time on this website, ncshellclub.com,  if you want to brush up on your shell identification. It provides a wealth of information, professional photographs, scientific names, and more! It has all the information you need to learn more about the most common North Carolina shells and how to identify them. It’s an awesome resource that you’ll want to bookmark on your browser and come back to after you’ve gone shell collecting to identify what you’ve found, if you don’t already know.

Pop Quiz: Do you know what the state shell of North Carolina is? It’s the Scotch Bonnet! It’s a beautiful shell and you are very lucky if you find one. It’s a cherished treasure, for sure.

5. Keep an eye out for shark teeth.

Shark teeth are found quite often on Topsail Island and are a coastal treasure all their own. When you think about shark teeth washing ashore on Topsail’s beaches, images of giant, fossilized Megalodon teeth may come to mind. But there are plenty of smaller, more common shark tooth finds to be found, too.

The most common shark teeth finds on Topsail Island are:

  • Bull Shark Teeth
  • Tiger Shark Teeth
  • Sand Shark Teeth

If you’re looking for a local expert on shark teeth, check out the Tom’s Teeth on Facebook. He knows his stuff and shares a lot of local knowledge, how-tos and photos of shark teeth and fossil finds. He also shares others’ finds as well.

6. Don’t forget about sea glass hunting.

Oh beautiful sea glass. You see a glint of shine and reflection in the sand drawing you closer to see what’s catching your eye. It’s most likely sea glass in a variety of colors of the rainbow. Some are more rare than others, but they’re all uniquely gorgeous in their own way. Keep your eyes open for some as you stroll the sand.

If you want to learn more about local sea glass on Topsail Island, what to look for and where to find it, we love the Island Girl Glass website.

If you’re in search of ready-made sea glass treasures to take home with you, check out these local Topsail businesses that sell sea glass jewelry.

7. Stay in an oceanfront Topsail rental.

Probably the best shelling, shark’s teeth, and sea glass hunting advice we can give you is to be close and convenient to the beach. What’s the best way to do that? Choose an oceanfront Topsail beach vacation rental where you can wake up and walk right out to the beach each and every day.

Oceanfront Topsail rentals are the only way to go to guarantee that you have the close and convenient access you want and need every day of your Topsail beach vacation. No parking hassle, no time wasted—just get up and go!

Peruse our favorite Topsail Island, NC, oceanfront and oceanside vacation rentals right here.

Let us know if we can help you find the perfect fit for you and your family. Happy Shelling!

When is your next Topsail shelling adventure? We’d love to see your best Topsail Island seashell finds. Drop us a picture in our comment section!