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23 Dec 2019
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When you think about vacationing on Holden Beach, you likely envision basking in the warm sunshine on the deck of your Hobbs Realty vacation rental, splashing in the Atlantic Ocean with your kids, or maybe enjoying lunch on a local restaurant patio.  

But, did you know that some of the best beachcombing can be done in the wintertime? The island is quieter, the ocean is still beautiful, and though you might need a jacket on your beach walk, fewer visitors are competing for the best shells along the shore.

Holden Beach Shell Collecting Bucket

Most Commonly Found Types of Shells

There isn’t a secret, magic list of things you will find on your winter beach walks that you can’t find during the other seasons, but you might be more likely to discover some fabulous finds in these off-season months.

Some of the most commonly found shells on Holden Beach include scallops, clams, snails, olive shells, shark eyes, augers, murex, and whelks. Some shell varieties that aren’t quite as common but can still be found here include scotch bonnets, lion’s paws, and conch shells. 

Fun Fact: The scotch bonnet is the state shell of North Carolina!

Additional beach treasures you can find regularly on Holden Beach include sand dollars, sharks’ teeth, sea glass, and driftwood.

Why is Winter Great for Beachcombing?

There are several factors that can affect your beachcombing success, including tides, storms, moon phases, and wind direction. The best times to go look for beach treasures are the hour before and the hour after low tide. It’s even better after a storm with strong easterly winds. 

The island also just has less beach traffic during the winter months. And, let’s be honest - in the world of beachcombing, less traffic means less competition for those extra special shells!

Best Places to Go Beachcombing on Holden Beach

Holden Beach is approximately eight miles long — eight miles of glorious sand, accessible by many private and public beach access points. The East End of the island is the most popular spot for not only beachcombing, but also for fishing. As you walk out to the East End, you hit the inlet that separates Holden Beach from Oak Island. It is also the channel where fishing boats get from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean and that leads to the Lockwood Folly River.  

Holden Beach Shells Beachcombing

This is a popular place to find sand dollars, just before low tide in ankle deep water. Please always make sure the sand dollars are no longer alive before you keep them. When you find a sand dollar that is no longer living, it will be a bright white color and have a smooth surface. Alternatively, live sand dollars are a darker color that closely matches the color of the sand, and you will see hair-like follicles on the bottom and sides. If you look closely you can see them move slowly in the wet sand.

While you’re on the East End, if you keep walking to the back side of the inlet as far as you can go, you will find one of the kindred spirit mailboxes. There are three mailboxes on the island, and people leave notes and memories in them to share with others. (The second mailbox is located off Sailfish Drive, and the third is on the West End.)

Due to the wave and sand patterns, inlets are almost always a great place for beachcombing, so the West End is also a popular destination. The West End inlet separates Holden Beach from Ocean Isle Beach. Because the West End is private, those shells will only be accessible via private beach access points unless you’re staying in that gated community. If you aren’t renting a property on the West End and aren’t quite up for a longer walk from the nearest public access, the East End is probably a better option for you. 

Of course, you can find plenty of treasures along the other stretches of shoreline, too. Head on out to the beach from your closest beach access walkway, and start looking! You probably won’t have to walk far in any direction before finding something fabulous.

Checking for Creatures Before Keeping Shells

Just as with sand dollars, it’s important to check all shells before keeping them. Hermit crabs inhabit some shells that they find, so you always want to make sure nothing is moving inside your treasure before you put it in your Hobbs Realty beach bucket. 

Another point to mention is that you want to be a responsible shell collector. As tempting as it may be, try not to take more than you need. If you find two beautiful shells on your walk, consider paying it forward and leaving one behind for the next beachgoer. Also, those same hermit crabs need empty shells in order to survive. If they are in transition from their old shell to a larger shell and can’t find one, they will die of exposure or get eaten by a predator.

Cleaning Your Treasures Properly

When your beachcombing adventure is complete, you also want to make sure to properly clean your finds of the day. They may contain remnants of whatever lived in them as well as sand fragments that can produce an unpleasant smell over time. A simple way to clean your lovely treasures is by washing them in a bucket of mild bleach or vinegar water, and rinsing them off well. You don’t want to leave them soaking too long, as the solution could affect the vibrant colors of your beautiful shells. 

Darcy Geho is a contributing author to this Hobbs Realty blog. She spent 11 years working in the vacation rental industry while she lived on and traveled the North Carolina coast. Like most of our visitors, when Darcy isn’t on Holden Beach, she looks forward to her next visit. In her spare time, Darcy enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog

Book Your Next Holden Beach Vacation!

Hopefully, you’ve not only learned a few tips about beachcombing, but you’ve enjoyed walking the quiet strand of wintertime Holden Beach in your imagination.

As always, if we can help you plan your next Holden Beach vacation, please call us at (800) 655-3367. Our Hobbs Realty vacation rental experts are looking forward to speaking with you soon!