How to find the elusive sand dollar on Anna Maria Island.

Sand dollar on beach

Sea cookies, snapper biscuits, sand cakes, pansy shells, or cake urchins. It doesn’t matter what you call them, we all want to leave the beach with at least one perfect specimen to add to our shell collection.


While many visitors come to Anna Maria Island for the ocean breeze, the turquoise water, and the sunshine, you can also add shell collection to the list. The Florida waters are home to thousands of different forms of sea life that wash up on our shores, but few are more sought after than the elusive sand dollar. They adorn frames, vases, candles, necklaces and so much more. It is often said that the sand dollar is worth more than the real dollar.

I find the best beaches on Anna Maria Island for sand dollars is Bean Point. With some good detective work you can find them on Bradenton Beach, Coquina Beach or Anna Maria City Beach and everywhere between.

Rule #1~ Know and love your tide chart. Sand dollars are often found just slightly beneath the mean low water line. In other words, the lowest level reached by the sea at low tide. They can be found on top, or just beneath the surface of the sand in those areas.

Rule #2~ Use your very best sleuthing skills. Scour the sand for round patches or depressions in the sand. The natural holes around petal shaped middle will allow sand to fall in, creating just a hint of a round depression.

Rule #3~ Gently dig to the very bottom of the natural piles of shells. When the shells aggregate on the shore there is usually at least one hiding in there somewhere.

Groups of live sandollars
And you thought your house was crowded!

Rule #4~ Look for the spare change. (That’s what my family calls the little broken pieces of sand dollars.) Living sand dollars love to hang out together. According to the brilliant folks at The Bishop Museum of Science and Art there can be as many as 600 in a single square yard. If you find a lot of broken pieces in the same place then look a little further out into the water. There just may be an intact sand dollar that hasn’t washed up yet.

Rule #5~ Never, EVER, take a live sand dollar (or anything else living for that matter) from the beach. There are many cities where it is illegal and the fines are substantial. The legality aside, it would be a poor environmental choice. The ocean is a very delicate ecosystem. The clear, clean water we enjoy is brought to you in part by the living sand dollars. Sand dollars feed on small food particles in the sand, typically microscopic algae and tiny fragments of other dead animals. You wouldn’t want to go body surfing in that! If the sand dollar still has spines and feet then gently place it back in the water.

Sand dollars can somewhat tricky to find, but that is why it is so exciting when you find one! Hopefully you learned a trick or two that will help you in your hunting. Worse case scenario~ you spent a great day at the beach!

How to clean seashells: Anna Maria Island Insider Tips

seashells bradenton beach
Good day at the beach!

Day 3 at your Anna Maria Island rental and it is starting to resemble a seashore in its own right. Bags of moon snails, calico scallops, kittens paw, and banded tulips spill out onto the kitchen table as though they are trying to escape. You even managed to find a few of the elusive sand dollar and even one sea fan skeleton. There are at least two bags dedicated to the coquina shells because your daughter says “they look purply and I want to make necklaces for my friends”.

It is a beautiful day and you have the window open to enjoy the smell of the ocean breeze when something less pleasant catches a ride on the air. After a moment of investigation you realize that it is the bags of beach bounty that seem to be the source of the offending odor.

Have no fear, the pool water is here! I learned this on my first vacation to Anna Maria Island before we moved here. We had so many shells from Bradenton Beach that I think we paid twice the baggage fee on the way home!

That same bucket you used to make the epic sand art earlier in the day can come in handy once again. Start by brushing most of the sand out, then rinsing with water to not get sand in the pool. Fill half way with water, then simply add shells so that they are all completely immersed. Leave overnight and voila most of that ‘not quite the beach smell you like’ is gone! No pool because you went for a direct waterfront property? No worries. Some hydrogen peroxide and water from your local Publix at a 10:1 ratio in the same multipurpose bucket will also do the trick.

Fast forward to unpacking the luggage after the flight home. You now have your own personal collection of bubble shells, fighting conch, tritons trumpet, and yes, even lightning whelk. Because, as your son astutely pointed out, you didn’t have those ones yet.

As you sort through your treasures you find some perfect specimens. Alas, more often than not they have a bit of a green tinge and a crusty, leathery outer coating in places. That simply won’t do! You have big decorating plans for those shells. The good news is that there are simple ways to get those shells back to their former luster.

Conch
Crusty!

The eco friendly ways~

1~The miracle of Vinegar! Simple, easy and cheap. Poor a small amount of vinegar into a bowl or cup. Use a soft toothbrush saturated with the vinegar and gently scrub the shell. You may have to do this several times. Then wash with soap and water. Don’t soak in the vinegar though, it will cause a reaction between the acid in the vinegar and the calcium carbonate of the shells. The shells will actually dissolve. It is kind of fun to watch it happen to at least one though:-)

2~ Another cleaning wonder is hydrogen peroxide. Simply put the shells in a bowl and poor enough peroxide to sufficiently cover the shells and let soak for several hours or until a film covers the top. The peroxide has invasive properties making easy work of any bacterial cleanup. Rinse thoroughly and place to dry on a towel.

The not-so eco friendly ways~

1~ Soak your seashells in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. The length of time depends on the type of seashells and the number of seashells being cleaned. Just be sure to remove them when the periostracum (that crusty, leathery covering that I mentioned earlier) is gone. I am not a huge fan of bleaching because the shell can absorb the smell. It can also lighten the color. If you try bleaching your shells, try not to leave them in the solution too long.

2~ Without question muriatic acid is the fastest and easiest way to clean your shells. It will almost magically strip the shell of any barnacles or algae and bring the color to back to life! Use only glass jars and plastic tongs due to the caustic reaction with muriatic acid and metals. Wear gloves and eye protection. In your first jar place 3/4 of a cup of water and 1/4 of muriatic acid. Fill the second jar with plain water. Take the plastic tongs and dip in the first jar for about 3-4 seconds then immediately place into the jar with water and place on paper towel or rags to dry. Be careful not to splash any of the liquid onto your skin. It can cause a nasty little burn. You can pick up muriatic acid at a local hardware store or pool supply company. Some states won’t allow you to flush hydrochloric acid unless you neutralize it first. Neutralize hydrochloric acid with baking soda. Wearing your protective garments and working in a ventilated area well away from children, pets, heat and metals, prepare a base mix. Mix 1 lb of baking soda with plenty of water. Slowly add the hydrochloric acid. The mixture will fizz. Add more baking soda until the fizzing stops. This means the hydrochloric acid is neutralized and can now be flushed down the sink with large quantities of water. I have only used this method once. It made me extremely nervous to work with such a strong acid.

There seem to be about a million and one ways to clean shells. My neighbor uses ants to remove any decaying material. I have heard that boiling works well. Some sites will tell you to bury them or freeze them. One of my friends puts her shells in the dishwasher. I have not tried any of those yet….. but you never know. If you know of another effective way please let me know by commenting below.

Now that you have a treasure trove of clean shells check our next blog at islandreal.com for suggestions on how to preserve them and some fabulous costal design tips using your new collection!

Best Beaches For Splendid Seashells On Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island has become famous for its pristine beaches, calm azure waters and unlimited Florida sunshine, but it has so much more than that to offer. People come here from all over the globe to get SEASHELLS!  Not just collectors or merchants, but real people like you and me can find absolute treasures.  Some of my favorites to find, and possibly the easiest are lion’s paws, tiger paws, clam shells, turkey wings and coquinas. The ones I love to find, and I sure everyone feels the same, are sand dollars!  You have to go pretty far out to get them intact, and you have to have some time to spend collecting them from the sea floor. Here is a list of Anna Maria Island’s best shell finding beaches.

1. Manatee Public Beach at the end of SR64 – I am a fifth generation Bradenton Florida native, and this is the beach I grew up on. My parents brought me to this beach for the first time when I was only 6 months old. I learned to swim here, sunbathe here and my favorite beach activity to collect seashells.

2. Anna Maria City Beach at the end of White Avenue – Not only is the beach at the end of this road unspoiled it is mostly secluded. I remember finding seashells here that hadn’t even been touched by other beach goers. This is definitely where I am always able to find unbroken shells.

3. Bayfront Park on North Bay Boulevard – I find that this is a good place to find larger shells because there are not a lot of waves the on the bayside of Anna Maria Island. If you catch this area at its lowest tide you will be able to find shells like none other anywhere on the island.

4. Bean Point on North Shore Drive – This is a place easily missed by most vacationers to Anna Maria Island, but locals like me love to explore the northern most beaches of Anna Maria Island. I found a beaut of a large pink and white conch shell that my daughter swears she hears mermaids singing inside.

5. Coquina Public Beach on South Gulf Drive – The south end of Anna Maria Island is a great place to not only find seashells, but sharks teeth as well! Some great advice I got from a fellow local was to keep my eye on the water line, and that “shark’s teeth will tumble while seashells roll”. I have found the most sharks teeth just remembering that phrase!

Rent A Jet Ski, Sail Boat, Or Go Parasailing During Your Anna Maria Visit Or Vacation!

There is nothing better than enjoying an Anna Maria Island Vacation, and renting a Jet Ski, sailboat, or kayak for a day of fun in the Gulf Waters.  Except maybe going fishing, parasailing, scuba diving, or snorkeling depending on your personal taste.

The choice is yours and it’s all right here on Anna Maria Island.  Here are a few places that can help you make the most of your Anna Maria Island visit or vacation.

Water Sports and Rentals on Anna Maria Island

 Bradenton Beach Parasailing
12507 Cortez Road W
Cortez Florida 34215
941-961-2065

Coastal Watersports
1301 Gulf Drive N
Bradenton Beach, Florida 34217
941-778-4969

Anna Maria Sailing and Boat Rides
3018 Gulf Drive
Holmes Beach, Florida 34217
941-580-1502

Adventure Kayak Outfitters
3230 East Bay Drive Ste. 125
Holmes Beach , 34217
(941) 779-7426

Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures
P.O. Box 1610
Anna Maria, Florida 34216
941-504-6296

Fishing Charters And Cruises

Cortez Kat
12507 Cortez Road West
Bradenton FL, 34215
941-795-6969

Gnarly Mangrove
2308 Canasta Dr.
Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
941-778-3875

Captain Josh Charters
5501 Marina Drive
Holmes Beach, FL 34217
941-447-6345

Captain Kim’s Enterprises Inc.
Bridge Street
Bradenton Beach, Florida 34217
941-920-3307

Sumotime Fishing Charters
Located in Holmes Beach
Holmes Beach , FL 34217
941-704-6763

Bradenton Beach Marina
402 Church Street
Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
778-2288