The casual beachcomber’s guide to collecting seashells in Hawaii

Seashells are some of Hawaii’s most beautiful and curious souvenirs that you can find in the most exotic locales (the coastline) at a price that can’t be beat (free).

Collecting them is therapeutic, too — there is nothing more relaxing than slowly walking under the sun at the ocean’s edge, searching for shells.

Here are a few tips about seashells in Hawaii. Enjoy!

Seashells appear after storms and ocean swells

Far offshore, low-pressure systems generate storms that create high winds and powerful surf. Large swells from these storms travel across the ocean, eventually breaking on Hawaii’s shores as waves.

These waves churn up debris from deep waters and deposit them onto the shorelines.

This debris includes — you guessed it — seashells.

In other words, the best time to collect seashells is after a big swell. In Hawaii, the biggest swells occur in the winter months (October-April) on the north and west coasts, with not-as-big swells hitting the south coasts during the summer months (May-September).

I’ve personally had the best luck in the winter on the northwest sides of the islands, right after a large swell.

Key tips for finding shells

Obviously, you need to look down. Scan the ground slowly, consciously and carefully — sometimes a shell will be right in front of you but camouflaged in the rocks and sand.

If you spot several shells in the same area, try lightly digging and sifting around. You will almost always find even more shells buried right under the top layer of sand, pebbles and rocks.

Be an early bird and arrive before the “crowd.” There are quite a few experienced beachcombers who know exactly where and when to show up. Once the shells are gone, they won’t be replenished until the next swell.

Make sure each shell you collect is empty. Remember that shells are homes to sea creatures, and sometimes they retreat far into the shell where you can’t see them. There is nothing more sad (or stinky) than taking home a shell and finding out that you’ve mistakenly killed its inhabitant.

Shell fragments can also be awesome. You’ll find more than your share of shells that are broken, but sometimes they’ll come to you in the most lovely shape, color and texture. Keep these! They also often make great jewelry.

If conditions are safe, you can throw on a mask and dive in the water and also find shells right below the surface. And…if you’re really lucky, you can even hear whale song reverberating. It’s absolutely magical!

Some of the kinds of shells you’ll find

Cowrie – all different varieties

Cones — Leopard cone, Hebrew cone, Marble cone, others

Opihi – a Hawaiian delicacy

Sunrise (quite rare)

Shells you won’t find: Ni’ihau. These tiny, gorgeous shells wash up on the island of Ni’ihau, which is inaccessible to the public. The shells are woven into magnificent necklaces, which are so valuable you can insure them.

Image credits: offdalipp, barryfacklerspamusubi, jrmannn25530364@N0749758223@N07patrick-smith-photographyjrmannnyogasurf

Need a hand with your next Maui vacation? Please contact the Sunny Maui Vacations team at or call 808-240-1311, ext. 21. We’ll find you the best vacation rental condo in South Maui and help you with any and all recommendations and activities across Maui (chat with our in-house Concierge at extension 71).

check-in check-out
close reservations form