Friday, January 18, 2013

Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum - Sanibel, Florida

Shells from around the world

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is a great way to spend a few hours while visiting Sanibel.  Perhaps you would like to get out of the sun (or rain) for a while, identify your beach finds, learn about how and why the shells are formed or just look at the shells - it is a small museum packed with a wealth of information.  Admission charge is $9 for adults, kids 5-16 are $5, 4 and under are free.  Hours are 10-5 daily - they are closed on most major holidays.

Who doesn't love to find out what can kill you in the ocean?!

This museum has more than 30 exhibits of mollusks from around the world and an extensive collection of local varieties. Shells are shown in art, history and you can view specimens both common and rare.  There is a video about the life of mollusks that runs on the hour - it is interesting and we learned a lot, but watching the 'fastest' mollusk move is rather like watching paint dry.

I never knew that scallops came in so many colors!

There are exhibits showing how shells have been used in history - from tools, trade and decorations used by the native people of the area to the elaborate Sailor's Valentines that were made by men at sea as gifts for their sweethearts back home.


There is a children's hands on area with a tank of local mollusks, activities and a video to watch.  Ask when entering the museum for the scavenger hunt listing.  Kids answer questions and are rewarded with a shell specimen to keep.

A small gift shop is on site - but oddly enough they don't sell shells!  The museum is a  non-profit organization and offers some great items for teachers and classrooms at nominal costs.  Check the website for more information and enjoy your shelling on Sanibel!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sanibel Island, Florida - a shelling vacation

Sanibel and Captiva islands are located just off the coast of Ft Meyers, Florida and a great place to enjoy the beach - especially if you like to find seashells.   There are many places to stay on the islands (hotels, condos, private homes) and public beaches available if you want to come over for the day.  In order to enjoy the island you must take the Sanibel Causeway bridge and pay a $6.00 toll.  Once on the island be prepared to pay for parking ($2/hr) and during peak times - the lots can be full.  Stop by the visitor center when you arrive and they will be glad to give you maps, information about places to stay, restaurants, shops, things to do, shelling and more!

Lighthouse beach on a weekend in October

Most people come to Sanibel for a relaxing vacation - walking on the beach, bird watching, reading, shelling, fishing, swimming and biking.  There is a 'laid back' type of attitude here with a small town feel.  Regulations prohibit new construction over 2 stories so no mega malls or huge resorts are here.  What IS here are 15 miles of beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, 230 kinds of birds and 250 types of shells and NO stoplights!  Public access to the beaches have paid parking, restrooms and some have showers and picnic areas.  There are a few rules to using the beaches: pets must be leashed and cleaned up after (no pets on Captiva beaches allowed), alcoholic beverages prohibited Nov-May, no open fires and no collecting of live shells.  Bring your own food, drinks, sunscreen, umbrellas, toys etc.  There are no vendors on the beach but many stores close by in case you forgot something.

One of the public fishing piers - lots of birds looking for an easy meal

Shelling is the main reason people come to Sanibel.  Tide charts are available so you can get out when the tides are the lowest and the shelling in the best.  Bring your bucket or bag and get ready to do the 'Sanibel Stoop' (walking bent over looking at the shells).  The island has some of the best shelling in the world because of it's unique east-west orientation as a barrier island.  One of our favorite places to shell was the lighthouse beach.  The Point Ybel Lighthouse was built in 1884 and an easy landmark to orient yourself to the layout of the island.  We rented a condo just a mile from the lighthouse and biked there most mornings.

Sanibel is a great place to enjoy a relaxing vacation or visit for the day to find some shells.  The USA Today lists Sanibel and Captiva as one of the 10 great places for families to escape the snow!  More information about the areas can be found on and they also have live online chat to help you with information about the area.