Listening to the soothing melody of the surf, watching the sunset paint the waves pink and orange, or reconnecting with loved ones: these are all treasures a beach trip can provide.
But some Florida getaways offer bounty in other forms, too. Check out what you can hunt for on these gems-of-beaches.
Shelling on Sanibel
Assume the ‘Sanibel stoop’ and search for conchs, whelks, scallops and starfish on Sanibel Island, a world-famous shelling hotspot. Because of its unusual east-west orientation, the Island scoops up an abundance of seashells from the Gulf, and the broad underwater shelf that protects its shores insures that many of those shells arrive unbroken. While you’re in town, make sure to visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to get the dish on the sweetest spots for shell hunting, the time of day that's best for shell collection, what to bring with you on your shelling expeditions and more. The Museum also offers educational events, lectures, demonstrations, and sometimes even beach walks. Please note that it is illegal to harvest live shells; if you find some, just gently return them to the water.
Scalloping’s a Blas
If you can wade or snorkel, no matter your age, you can enjoy scalloping on Cape San Blas. This experience is part treasure hunt, part snorkeling adventure – and pure fun for your whole gang. During the late summer of each year, you can pluck the succulent mollusks from the shallow grass flats of St. Joe Bay, one of just a few places in Florida where bay scallops can be harvested. The only equipment you’ll need is wading shoes and a mesh bag, though most prefer to use a mask, snorkel and swim fins as well. A boat will open up even more territory. After your hunt is complete, you have a tough decision: whether to sauté, blacken or fry your catch.
A coastline to treasure
Spanish galleons wrecked off of Florida’s Treasure Coast in the 1700s, spilling a fortune’s worth of jewelry, artifacts, and gold and silver coins on the ocean floor. Storms, currents and time still wash the bounty ashore – which gives you the opportunity to find some of it. You can buy or rent a metal detector to help discover what’s hidden under the sand, but just using your eyes can work, too. Search the high-tide line where the sand is the softest, or the wet sand that’s uncovered after each wave. A screened device at the end of a handle is handy to have, but everyday garden tools such as a hand scoop and pail will do. Just sort through the debris, inspect anything unusual – and keep your fingers crossed for good luck. Productive places to search include Vero Beach, any of the beaches three miles north or south of Sebastian Inlet State Park (in particular, Bonsteel Park north of Sebastian Inlet), Wabasso Beach, Melbourne Beach, Aquarina Beach (about 11 miles south of Melbourne Beach), and Pepper Park Beach near Fort Pierce.
Archeology with bite
Fossilized, prehistoric sharks’ teeth may be black, brown, or gray; they may be as tiny as an eighth of an inch or as large as three inches. Rarely, they’re as massive as six inches. They may come from the mouths of snaggletooth, tiger or lemon sharks, or from many other kinds of sharks. The only thing that’s for sure is that you’re bound to find some variety of sharks’ teeth on Venice Beach. Sharks of all species continually shed their teeth and grow new ones, and they boast 40 or more teeth in each jaw, which means there are lots for you to find. And locating them is easy. Just walk the tide lines and look for black triangles: they’re sharks’ teeth. While not all fossilized teeth are exactly triangular in shape, most are. Fossils of other marine creatures are also common in this area.
Young at heart
Nothing is more precious that the promise of staying forever young, and you can pursue that dream in Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, located on the original site of the Nation's oldest city, St. Augustine. In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in his search for new lands – and according to legend, magical waters. In 1565, it was settled by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, making it the oldest successful European settlement in the United States. The Spring House at the Park is a 60-year old coquina building, which covers the original spring that was recorded in a 17th Century Spanish land grant. Make sure to take a sip of the spring water; it contains over 30 minerals. Even if you don’t find eternal youth, you’re sure to find a good time.