With summer on the way, you're probably compiling a bucket list of Florida adventures to go on — and with no shortage of stunning coastline, the Sunshine State delivers the best destinations. There's a secluded island nature preserve off the coast of Pinellas County and it's one of the most stunning spots to hunt for shells and sand dollars.

When we think of St. Pete and Pinellas County, we usually think of all the cool bars and nightlife options in the area; but if you have more of an adventurous spirit, off the west coast of the county is a hidden gem known as the Shell Key Preserve. To explore this 1,800-acre gem, you'll have to book a ride on the Shell Key Shuttle, embark from a nearby channel boat launch if you have a vessel, or paddle your way over on your kayak or canoe.

The waters on the preserve are crystal clear, taking on different hues of blue and turquoise depending on the ecosystems below the surface. The vast span of the undeveloped island's beaches has lovely lightly colored sand, where you can find fully formed shells and sand dollars.

Aside from beautiful unspoiled beaches and crystal clear waters, you can also traverse the winding canopy of mangrove branches around the preserve's mangrove islands for the most magical adventure. The way the branches form tunnels and bends make for a scenic experience like no other. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can embark on a journey up the island's sand dunes and admire areas with thick foliage, like your own little island safari.

The Shell Key website offers resources on how to navigate the land, such as maps with clearly marked green paths of travel, and information on launching points. If you're navigating yourself, they recommend you travel out of Pass-a-Grille into the Gulf of Mexico and return into Bunces Pass.

You can also come from the Skyway Bridge Channel into Tampa Bay. This is the easiest way to get to the south end of the preserve. Take a launch ramp from Fort Desoto, then follow the channel markers west toward the mouth of Bunces Pass. Their website warns not to travel south on the east side of Tierra Verde since the water can be unpredictable.

The planning it takes to visit this island oasis is well worth the effort, and Mother Nature recently blew a hurricane through the area, creating a new pass for visitors to explore. You can even pitch a tent to enjoy the most gorgeous sunsets that Florida has to offer.

Kayaking is undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience Shell Key. This kayaking experience will take you through the most gorgeous sights the area has to offer.

To learn more about Shell Key Preserve, on how to navigate the area and to view the preserve map, check the Friends of Shell Key website here. You can find information on the Shell Key Shuttle here.


We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit a potentially hazardous location, you check for the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. If you do plan to visit a location, respect the environment.

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