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  • Writer's pictureHilton Head Outfitters

Beachcombing On Hilton Head Island

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

There are 11 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach on Hilton Head Island on which one can find literally tons of shells and beach treasures! Next time you’re visiting Hilton Head, head outdoors for a stroll and a beachcombing adventure.


There are plenty of places to find beautiful beach treasures at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort! For starters, you’ve got three stunning miles of Atlantic Ocean beachfront to explore. Perfect for collecting a large variety of shells and if you’re lucky a fossilized shark tooth!

For further adventures, try Skull Creek where the old swing bridge crossed onto Hilton Head. You can get there from the Pinckney Island boat landing. Sand bars at low tide are also great places to look—but be aware of the incoming tide. You can get stranded in a hurry as the tide comes in.


The best time to look for shells and other beach treasures is about an hour before low tide. Stop in to Hilton Head Outfitters and we can let you know when the next low tide will be and share our favorite nearby spots for shell spotting!

photo credit: @donbil36


Shark Teeth Shark teeth aren’t the teeth themselves, they’re actually fossils! Thousands of years ago, these teeth came from ancestors of the sharks we see today, dropped to the ocean floor and were buried by sediment. Over thousands of years, the minerals in the sediment gradually replaced the original tooth material. Fossilized shark teeth are different colors, depending on the sediment in which they were buried. Most are black and dark grey, while some are brown or tan. They’re triangular in shape and 1–3 inches long.

Driftwood Storms out on the Atlantic Ocean can churn up all sorts of debris and wash it ashore, including sun-bleached and water-worn driftwood in all sorts of otherworldly shapes and sizes.

Shells on Hilton Head Island There are hundreds of types of shells to be found while beachcombing at Palmetto Dunes! In fact, beachcombing for shells is such a way of life around here that South Carolina even has a state shell! It’s called the Lettered Olive and it’s a long, smooth shell with a pointed end and a zigzag design. It’s usually about 2 ½ inches long.

Here are some other kinds of shells you can expect to find on Hilton Head Island:

Angel Wing: A bivalve shell, meaning it’s technically two shells connected together. An angel wing shell has beaded ribs and can be between 4–7 inches long. The two shells, when found intact, look like wings, giving the shell its name. These shells are fairly delicate and quite beautiful.

Atlantic Jackknife: This large shell can be up to 10 inches long. It’s covered with a thin brownish-green coating and is typically found in sand flats. Be careful when handling, as its edges can be quite sharp.

Auger: These long, slender, screw-shaped spiral shells are brown or grey with pronounced spiral stripes. These can range in size from one inch to up to 8 inches.

Banded Tulip: This spiral-shaped shell is usually 2–3 inches long, with brown swirls and dark maroon lines.

Channeled Whelk: This beautiful, spiraling, pear-shaped shell is a great find! A cousin to the Caribbean conch, it’s one of the larger shells you’re likely to discover while beachcombing in South Carolina.

Cockle: This small, ribbed bivalve shell can come in multiple colors, from pure white to orange ombré to deep browns and purples. It’s quite populous on Palmetto Dunes beach.

Moon Shell: This round, tightly spiraled shell has beige and brown stripes or striations. It’s named after the half-moon shape of its opening.

It’s easy to find smaller shells as you walk along the shore, but to find whelks and other large shells intact, investigate parts of shells you see poking up from the sand. Do a little digging and you might find buried treasure!

Now that you know what to look for and where to look, you’re ready to get out to see what beautiful specimens of the sea you can find while beachcombing on Hilton Head Island.

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