A Hidden Florida Treasure: Shell Key - The Perfect Day Trip

Malinda Fusco


Photo by Razvan Narcis Ticu on Unsplash

Have you ever dreamed of combing the white sands of a Florida beach and finding beautiful intact shells, sand dollars, and conchs galore? That dream can become a reality with a little trip to Shell Key, which is adaptly named for the beautiful and numerous shells strewn across its sandy shoreline and in the shallow waters.

If it sounds too good to be true, I assure you it's not. I've been there and I have the shells to prove it.

This article will tell you how to get to Shell Key and what treasures you may find there.

What is Shell Key?

Shell Key is a barrier island off the west coast of Florida, in warm Gulf of Mexico waters.

A barrier island is basically an island that acts as a "barrier" between the mainland and the ocean. It sits off the coast, a bit closer to the depths of the ocean...and thus the treasures it can hold. See the picture of where Shell Key is located below for a better visual.

Shell Key is renowned for its white sand, plentiful shells, warm waters, and nature preserve.

My Experiences at Shell Key

I've been to Shell Key on multiple occasions.

Each time, I've found many beautiful shells, although the best time to visit is during low tide. During low tide, the waters are pulled back, offering you more of the sandy banks to comb and you'll find many more shells than if you venture to the island during high tide. There is a noticeable difference in treasure (shells) to find depending on the tides, so plan your trip carefully and try to catch a ride to the island so you're there for the low tides.


Picture was taken by the author

You can bring food and drinks (nonalcoholic) to the island, and I would definitely recommend setting up a beachside picnic as you enjoy your time at Shell Key. There are no trash cans on the island though, so do bring a bag to place all of your trash in so that you can take it with you when you go. There also are not any gift shops or stores on the island as it is a nature preserve in the truest sense, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen!

Where is Shell Key?

Shell Key is located just off of Fort Desoto Beach in Pinellas County, Florida. Shell Key is a 20-minute ride via ferry from Fort Desoto beach.

Fort Desoto is a historic beach that also houses an old military outpost that you can explore. Fort Desoto's military outpost was built during the Spanish-American War and boasts that it is Pinellas County's largest park. Parking at most spots for Fort Desoto is only $5, and it is worth the time to explore the forts before heading over to Shell Key for a lovely day trip.

How to Travel to Shell Key

Traveling to Shell Key is easy if you use the official Shell Key Ferry. The link to their website can be found here.

The ferry departs from Fort Desoto Boat Ramp at 10 am, 12 pm, or 2 pm Friday through Monday.

The ferry picks you up from Shell Key at 1 pm, 3 pm, or 5 pm Friday through Monday.


Screenshot by the author from Shell Key website

Since Shell Key is a nature preserve, there are some prohibited items that you cannot bring with you. The restricted items include alcohol, glass, or drones. You cannot bring pets either.

You can purchase tickets at the boat ramp, but there is a limited capacity for the ferry, so they recommend that you purchase tickets online ahead of time. That way you don't miss out!

The ticket costs are as follows:

Adult (12+): $25

Child (ages 3-11): $12.50

Infants are free.

So if you're craving a day trip full of nature's beauty, visit Shell Key soon!

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