Suggest a beach for my wife and daughter

Every year my wife and little girl (6 years old) take a mother-daughter trip to various places - last year they went to Williamsburg, VA, this year they want to go to a beach.

My wife has a few criteria:

  1. Must be on the East Coast (US)
  2. Must have plenty of seashells (Sophie insists that she wants to look for seashells and look at “pretty things”)
  3. Must allow swimming
  4. Not Key West (too long a drive)

They were thinking of Myrtle Beach (it’s probably the closest to us) but a bit of research suggests the shelling isn’t really all that great there. I’ve looked at a few places on the Gulf Coast - Sanibel-Captiva, Marco Island, other places near Naples and Tampa.

Does anybody have any suggestions or experiences at the places mentioned above? Thanks!

A boardwalk-type area would be nice as well.

Cocoa Beach, FL

The prettiest beaches in the U.S. are probably in Destin, FL. It is a seriously beautiful area probably within your driving range. The sand is so white that it looks like snow and the water is blue-green and warm. I don’t think the shelling is that great there however but it does have everything else. Nearby Pensacola and Fort Walton beaches do have good shelling however.

Ocean City, MD has one of the best boardwalks on the East Coast, IMO. However, I don’t recall any East Coast beaches that have a lot of seashells. Even up in Maine I don’t recall all that many.

There’s good shelling on Honeymoon Island state park in Florida, which is just north of Clearwater. You can’t overnight there in the state park, but it’s worth a drive in from Clearwater or wherever near there they might be staying.

Sunset Beach, NC, is a great family beach, but not a lot of shells there, either. All the good ones are picked up instantly by the tourists, but you can find a few if you’re lucky. The beach there is great - wide and flat with nice fine sand. It’s about 30 miles north of Myrtle Beach, so it’s close enough to drive down for shopping or other diversions, but Sunset Beach is much quieter and more family oriented.

Nauset Beach, Orleans, Cape Cod.

This beach is wonderful for small children! There are salt marshes and tidal pools to explore right on the beach. The best part is that the tide goes waaaaaay out during low tide and you can walk forever and see the shells and crabs and other little sea creatures. During high tide it has gentle waves.

I think you can find some shells somewhere along the Treasure Coast south of the cape. We went to Juno Beach a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed a bit of beachcombing while there.

Just south of there is Assateague Island. The beaches there are orders of magnitude less crowded than Ocean City, so the shelling is a little better. Still probably not spectacular, but they’ve got ponies! I like the area because you’ve got the lively boardwalk of Ocean City and the peaceful windswept beaches in Assateague. We’re also fond of Cape Henlopen 1/2hr to the north in Delaware.

I liked Virginia Beach when I went there as a child. My siblings and I collected most of a gallon size ziplock bag of shells in the couple of days we were there, if I remember correctly. If you like camping, you can get a campsite right on the beach at the state park there. It’s like having your own private section of beach.

I didn’t like Myrtle Beach, SC at all. It’s very crowded, and unless you want to go golfing, I didn’t think there was that much to do.

Cape May, NJ has little shiny stones (called Cape May diamonds) that make for interesting beachcombing, and it’s close enough to Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ to catch that interesting bit of beach lore.

My family quite enjoyed Rohobeth, DE beach. We managed to collect quite a few shells and saw dolphans frolicking in the surf.

Bethany Beach Delaware (just north of Ocean City MD) has had beach replenishment done over the winter, so the beaches are covered in “fresh” sand that was dredged up recently. The shallows and the dunes will have lots of interesting shells just below the surface, and if they go early in the morning they can find shells that came up overnight during the high tide.