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Covered head to toe in P20, the internationally acclaimed sunscreen of the uber pale, I was ready for my day trip to Shell Island.
Snacks packed, sunglasses on and towel stuffed in my bag I climbed aboard our pontoon boat (with slides on the back), FULLY prepared to live my best life out on the Gulf.
If you’re planning on making the trip, here are all my top tips for visiting Shell Island.
A Day Trip to Shell Island – A Guide
About Shell Island
Shell Island technically isn’t an island (SURPRISE!). It is currently more of a barrier peninsula than a barrier island. However, it has been an island in the past, so it’s not a complete lie.
In fact, this makes it remind me of the sand bar from the sand bar party scene in Magic Mike even more.
Nature at Shell Island
Shell Island stands between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew’s State Park. Because of the warm waters from the Gulf there are dolphins EVERYWHERE. You can barely look at the water without seeing a dolphin! Ok, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there are a LOT of them.
You’ll find all sorts of wildlife on Shell Island due to its pristine nature, particularly birds. Pelicans can be spotted on the overturned wooden pier. Sandpipers dodge in and out of the waves as they lap at the shore. You might even spot an osprey.
Parts of the island are off limits for conservation reasons, but these are well sign-posted so you won’t accidentally stumble into them. During turtle nesting season the nests will be clearly marked so that you can avoid disturbing them too.
The Sand on Shell Island
Shell Island itself, thankfully, is a lot more sand and less shells than I was expecting which makes it the perfect spot for a barefoot walk.
The sand is typical of Florida beaches, white quartz, soft, squeaky and impossibly cool to the touch. There’s no danger of burning your feet on the sand at Shell Island which is just so nice to not have to worry about.
I still have awful flashbacks of scalding my soles on Spanish beaches as a child, the physical burn might only last a couple of days but the memory is seared into your brain forever! God bless Floridian sand.
Toilets on Shell Island
There are no bathroom/restroom facilities on Shell Island. So I’m afraid you’ll have to hold it, or use the sea. Don’t feel too weird about it, the fish do it all the time.
How to Get to Shell Island
The most simple way to get to Shell Island is to take the shuttle from Saint Andrew State Park. The Shell Island shuttle runs every half hours, 7 days a week, during the summer.
Round trip tickets cost $19.95 return. You can rent snorkel equipment and even a kayak also when you buy your ticket. For full pricing and timetables check the shuttle website.
Your other option is to hire a private boat or to take a private tour with Lagoon Pontoons. This is what we opted for and we had the most incredible time.
With a private hire everything is obviously more comfortable and you can change your itinerary. Our skipper, Captain John, made sure we saw plenty of dolphins, sea turtles and even raccoons.
It was also super handy that we could just anchor the boat, leave all our stuff on board with Captain John and just enjoy Shell Island before coming back for lunch and drinks on board.
However you choose to get to Shell Island, you’ll love it there.
What to Pack For Shell Island
Being prepared for a visit to Shell Island is key. The island has no facilities, so you need to bring everything you might possibly need.
I recommend bringing a small cooler with drinks so that no one gets dehydrated. There’s also close to no shade on the island so it’s worth bringing a parasol or beach umbrella and a hat.
Bring all the food and snacks you’ll need too. We got ourselves a platter of Publix subs, some fruit and plenty of alcohol and water – the ultimate beach picnic.
Sun cream/screen/lotion/block is also an essential. We don’t want anyone getting sunstroke. Also, it can get a bit chilly out on the boat if it’s windy so make sure to bring a light jumper/sweater, or just wrap yourself in your towel.
The most important thing is to make sure that you don’t leave anything behind. Some parts of Shell Island belong to St. Andrews State Park and are home to A LOT of wildlife (I’m really driving that point home, right?!) who certainly don’t appreciate littering visitors.
Read my article about THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY BEACH for more ideas for your PCB trip.
Why I Loved Shell Island
Shell Island is utterly serene. You know those moments where you really stop and take stock of how lucky and thankful you are to be in a certain moment? I had one of those moments on Shell Island. It’s just so completely beautiful and calm that I almost burst with gratitude.
The waves rolling on the shore, my toes sinking into the powdery sand, the wind whipping saltwater into my hair. Shell Island is blissful perfection.
Sitting on the side of the pontoon, munching a sub, bobbing away in the sparkling shallows – it could not have been more perfect. It made me feel like I was in an American movie.
That being said, at peak time Shell Island can get a bit crowded, and hence a little less serene. I recommend going early or during the week when there’ll be less people around.
I loved my trip to Shell Island so much that I didn’t even mind when I got back to shore and my hair was tangled and my skin was covered in salt. I was exhausted in the best way from the sun, the heat, the swimming and the ocean air.
If you’re ever in Panama City Beach I highly recommend a trip to Shell Island. It was one of my favourite Florida experiences so far.
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