Behind every shell is a story. A story of a creature traveled. A story of a shell formed. A story to connect us to the natural world. This is the ethos behind the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, one of the most exceptional Sanibel Island museums for you to visit on your vacation.
About the Shell Museum
According to the official website, the Bailey-Matthews Sanibel Island Shell Museum is the only accredited museum in the United States devoted solely to shells and mollusks. It began in 1984 by a group of local shell collector who were fascinated by the stories of shells. Following a $10,000 gift from shell enthusiast Charlene McMurphy, the group incorporated a 501(c)(3) non-profit and began to increase local knowledge of mollusks through programs, scientific research, and tours. In 1987, the group formed an official museum and by 1988, the City of Sanibel had recognized the museum as an educational institution.
Over the following years, the group expanded its repertoire, offering the R. Tucker Abbott Visiting Curatorship award for mollusk curators and editing/leading a reputable scientific magazine, The Nautilus.
Due to the efforts of some local shell collectors and leading scientists in mollusks, Shelling in Sanibel Island has never been stronger and more renowned.
Plan Your Visit
It isn’t just a coincidence that Sanibel Island has garnered such a strong passionate following for shells. The location of the island makes it a prime hotspot for collecting shells along its beaches. Of course, the year-round great Sanibel Island weather doesn’t hurt! And you can see all this at play, and more, when visiting the museum.
The museum consists of about 30 different exhibits capturing the area’s history and art through the lens of its shells and beaches. The Shells of Sanibel and Captiva is the most comprehensive look at bizarre and rare shells, including Junonias, pen shells, and fig snail shells.
The Record-Breaking Room features the Goliath Conch, Atlantic Trumpet Triton, and the Horse Conch, among others. It houses some of the largest shells in the world. It also gives you special insight into how to develop your very own shell display. Learn from the best- and biggest!
The Shells Around the World exhibit expands the scope of the museum’s local mission by showcasing some of the finest finds from Japan and the Indo-West Pacific Province.
All these exhibits are complemented by school day programs and daily programming. This includes a trip to the 15-foot touch pools. Kids can touch various creatures while overseen by a guide. They can learn more about the role of flora in protecting the beaches, including the Florida flowers and marshes. The programs are easily one of the best kid friendly activities in Sanibel!
The scavenger hunt is a blast. Museum developers have created four skill levels, ranging from a scavenger hunt for the babies to one that will even test the mental might of knowledgeable adults.
Out of all the things to do in Sanibel Island, the Bailey-Matthews shell Museum is possibly the most flexible. All ages can find something to dig into, whether its fun scavenger hunts for kids to deep scientific dives into the creation of record-shattering shells.
Hours, Operations, Cost
The museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guests will find free on-site parking for the day.
There are also physical-distancing guidelines in place. This includes plexiglass barriers, limited capacity, one-way flow paths, and the alteration of traditionally hands-on exhibits.
Adults 18 and over are $23.95 while youth ages 12-17 are $14.95 and children 5-11 are $8.95. Visitors under 5 are free.
The museum is conveniently located at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd. It is the main road through the island, just 1.5 miles east of the Ding Darling park entrance
How to Show Your Support
Local leaders are always considering new ways to preserve the area’s natural beaches- and you can help them along! Become a member and take advantage of free admission and special access to events. You can also make a direct donation or volunteer your time. Consider helping Sanibel protect its incredible beaches.