OBX Beachcombing & Shell Guide

Free souvenirs from the sea! This guide provides images of shells and other items found on the beaches of Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.

OBX Beachcombing & Shell Guide

Hand holding a scallop shell

Beachcombing is one of our favorite things to do.

Who doesn’t love free souvenirs from the sea? This guide provides images of shells and other items found on the beaches of Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.

Where is the best place to find shells on the Outer Banks?
Weather, currents, and our shoreline are constantly changing, so you never know quite where the best shell beds will be day-to-day. If you aren’t having luck at your nearest beach access, give a different one a try! There are many public beach accesses to choose from.

When is the best time to go shelling?
Beachcombing is in-season all year round. If you’re an early riser, head to the shore for sunrise. Some great shells may have washed up overnight, plus there’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise over the Atlantic. (This is also a common time of day to spot dolphins swimming offshore!) It’s also helpful to follow the tides. Low tide is the ideal time to beachcomb, before the water rises to cover what the waves brought onto the sand.

Scotch Bonnet Shells

Scotch Bonnets

Scotch Bonnets are the official North Carolina state seashell! The shell is grown by a type of sea snail and can be 2-4 inches on the longest side. They can be shades of brown, yellow, and orange.

Quahog Shells

Ocean Quahogs

Ocean Quahog shells are hinged clam shells, but it’s rare to find the two sides still attached once they wash up on the beach. These are thick shells that tend to have a white interior with a purple rim, but some have no purple coloring at all. The oldest living animal on the planet was a quahog at 507 years old!

Broken Pieces of Quahog Shells

Broken Pieces of Ocean Quahogs

When quahog shells break up into pieces, it can expose more of the purple coloring commonly found in the deeper layers of the shell. Over time these pieces become worn and smooth. White and purple quahog pieces were used by Native Americans to create wampum beads, which were used at currency.

Cockle Shells

Atlantic Giant Cockles

Cockles are radially-ribbed hinged clam shells, but it is uncommon to find the two sides still hinged together on Outer Banks beaches. Atlantic Giant Cockles range in size from about a half inch to six inches at their widest part. They are usually off-white with brown and red markings, and their interior is commonly smooth and pink.

Scallop Shells

Scallops

Scallops are clam shells, and they can be found in a wide variety of colors on the Outer Banks. They are typically about three inches at their widest width and are radially-ribbed with “ears” sticking out slightly on either side of their base where the hinge would be. It isn’t common to find the two sides still hinged together on the beach.

Coquina Shells

Coquinas

Coquinas are small hinged clam shells that grow to be smaller than an inch. You can find these on Outer Banks beaches at the tide line with both sides still held together by the delicate hinge, which give them a butterfly-like shape. They are typically white on both sides. The interior can have tinges of purple and yellow.

Whelk Shells

Whelks

A variety of Whelks are sea snails. A variety of whelk shells can be found on Outer Banks beaches, but the knobbed whelk and lightning whelk are the most common. Lightning whelk shells have their opening on the left side, and knobbed whelks have their opening on the right side. These sprial shells can be found in a variety of sizes.

Clam Shells

Atlantic Surf Clams

Atlantic Surf Clams are hinged clam shells that are usually white, gray, yellow, and brown. They can grow to be nearly 9 inches, but it’s very rare to find them that large.

Mussel Shells

Mussels

Mussel shells are wedge-shaped, hinged, and are typically black and dark blue or purple. It’s common to find these shells still hinged on the beach at the tide line.

Ark Shells

Ark Clams

Ark Clams are thick, hinged shells with radial ridges. They can be found in a wide variety of colors on the Outer Banks, but white and gray are the most common.

Oyster Shells

Oysters

Oyster shells are usually teardrop-shaped but can be found in other more freeform shapes as well. They’re comprised of many layers depending on how old they are.

Starfish

Sea Star

Sea Stars (or starfish) found on the Outer Banks have five tapered arms, also called rays, radiating out from their body. Sea stars are a wonderful beachcombing find, but they should not be taken out of the water or picked up from the sand if at all soft or limp — they could still be alive and are very fragile animals. Once dead, sea stars are dry and stiff.

Moon Snail Shells

Shark Eye Moon Snails

Shark Eye Moon Snail shells can be 5 inches at their widest point. They are smooth, spiral-shaped, spherical shells found in a variety of color ranging from brown to blue-gray.

Two Disc Dosinia Seashells

Disk Dosinias

Disk Dosinias are white, flat hinged clam shells. They can be about 3 inches wide.

Baby's Ear Moon Snail Shells

Baby’s Ear Moon Snails

Baby’s Ear Moon Snails have thin and fragile shells. They have a flattened spiral shape that resembles…and ear! They are typically white, yellow, brown, or gray.

Razor Seashells

Razor Clams

Razor Clam shells are smooth and delicate with a hinge on their long side. They can be up to 9 inches long and resemble the shape of a straight-razor.

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollars found on Outer Banks beaches are flat discs that can be about 1 to 4 inches at their widest point, and they have a flower-like shape in the center of their body. Sand dollars are brittle, fragile, and white from sun-bleaching. If you find a sand dollar that is a darker color and has fur-like growth on it, it may still be alive and should not be handled.

Driftwood

Driftwood

Driftwood is simply worn pieces of wood that have washed up on the shore. Salt water and wave action lighten and smooth the wood over time, removing any bark.

Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Sea glass comes from glass objects that made their way into the ocean, broke up, and eroded to small smooth pieces over time. The most common colors that wash up on the Outer Banks are white, amber, and green. Learn more about Outer Banks sea glass on our blog.

Fulgurite

Fulgurite

Fulgurite is sand and sediment fused together by lightning strikes! These pieces of petrified lightning are often mistaken for concrete because of their color (often gray on the Outer Banks) and odd shapes. Although they may not look like much from the outside, they’re usually hollow, and the inside is smooth glass.

3 Skate Egg Cases

Skate & Ray Egg Cases

Skate and Egg Cases, often called “mermaid purses” are black capsules with two skinny tendrils at the top and bottom.

We’d love to see your beachcombing finds!

Tag us in your shell photos on Instagram or send them to us on Facebook.
If you’re feeling creative, we’re always sharing new shell display and DIY ideas on Pinterest.

Corolla Movies | Corolla, NC

On your next Outer Banks trip, bring the family to Corolla Movies, a 3-theater cinema tucked in the Monterey Plaza near the Food Lion in Corolla, NC. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Corolla Movies

Corolla Movies

815 Ocean Trail,
Corolla, NC 27927
252-453-2999
Website

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Rainy day? Fear not! Bring the family to Corolla Movies, a 3-theater cinema tucked in the Monterey Plaza near the Food Lion. It’s a family-run establishment, and although it may not be the scale of your hometown theater, it offers current movies and your standard cinema snacks.

Currituck Club Golf Course | Corolla, NC

The Currituck Club Golf Course in Corolla, NC is an 18 hole semi-private course designed by Rees Jones, and offers beautiful views along the sound in areas. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{ “@context”: “http://schema.org”, “@type”: “LocalBusiness”, “address”: { “@type”: “PostalAddress”, “addressLocality”: “Corolla”, “addressRegion”: “NC”, “postalCode”: “27927”, “streetAddress”: “620 Currituck Clubhouse Dr” }, “image”: “https://pages.carolinadesigns.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2018/03/Screen-Shot-2018-03-27-at-11.32.33-AM.png”, “aggregateRating”: { “@type”: “AggregateRating”, “ratingValue”: “4.3”, “reviewCount”: “887” }, “name”: “The Currituck Club”, “telephone”: “888-453-9400”, “url”: “http://www.currituckclubresort.com/”, “openingHours”: [ “Mo-Su 8:00-16:00” ] }

Currituck Club Golf Course

Currituck Club Golf Course

620 Currituck Clubhouse Dr,
Corolla, NC 27927
252-453-9400
Website

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Tee off at the Currituck Club Golf Course, located near the entrance to the Harris Teeter in Ocean Sands. This 18 hole semi-private course was designed by Rees Jones, and offers beautiful views along the sound in some areas. The layout varies between tree-lined and open fairways, and a driving range is also available. After playing a round stop by the restaurant to grab lunch or a cool drink.

Corolla Surf Shop | Corolla, NC

Since 1996, Corolla Surf Shop has been providing the Corolla, NC area with surfboard rentals and lessons, as well as kayaks, paddle boards, bikes, and more. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Corolla Surf Shop

Corolla Surf Shop

807 Ocean Trail,
Corolla, NC 27927
252-453-9283
Website

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Since 1996, Corolla Surf Shop has been providing the Corolla area with surfboard rentals, as well as kayaks, paddleboards, wet suits, bikes, bodyboards, and skimboards. They’ve also got a great selection of bathing suits, board shorts, and other gear. The Corolla Surf School has helped newbies get their bearings on the water for over 20 years – it’s one of the best spots in Corolla to sign up for surf lessons! Instructors are CPR certified, experienced, and professional, with one main goal in mind: to have fun!

North Beach Watersports | Corolla, NC

North Beach Watersports has years of experiencing serving the Corolla area for kayaking, parasailing, jet ski rentals, pontoon boats, and more. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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North Beach Watersports

North Beach Watersports

1066 Ocean Trail,
Corolla, NC 27927
252-455-9977
Website

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One of the best things about visiting the Outer Banks is the opportunity to get out on the water. The ocean tends to take all the credit, but the sound is ideal for a multitude of water sports. North Beach Watersports has years of experience serving the Corolla area and is located behind the Corolla Inn. Choose from a variety of activities, including jet ski rentals, parasailing, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak rentals, pontoon boats, sunset cruise tours, or tubing/banana boat rides.

The Whalehead Club | Corolla, NC

The Whalehead Club is the largest and most ornate of the hunting clubs of the Currituck Sound. Located in Corolla, NC, this building has a fascinating history. Find out more about it, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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The Whalehead Club

The Whalehead Club

1100 Club Road,
Corolla, NC 27927
252-453-9040
Website

Renovated and open to the public in 2002, The Whalehead Club is the largest and most ornate of the hunting clubs of the Currituck Sound. Its history is fascinating, convoluted, and filled with tidbits of gossip and lifestyles of the rich, famous, and powerful. Originally called Currituck Island, the Whalehead Club was built in 1922 by Edward Collings Knight, for his wife, Marie Lebel Bonat Knight. Rumored, but not proven, the home was built after she was denied membership in a hunt club because she was a woman. Renamed the Whalehead Club in the late 1930s by the new owner, Ray Adams, in the hope of creating a tourist industry in Corolla, the building is a massive 21,000 square foot structure.

4×4 Beaches | Carova, NC

Discover the magic of Carova Beach north of Corolla, NC by driving on the 4×4 beach during your Outer Banks Vacation, and see the wild horses. Find out more about beach driving, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.

The 4x4 Beaches of Carova

The 4×4 Beaches of Carova

The paved section of NC12 ends about a mile and a half north of Currituck Heritage Park, but for off-road vehicles, the 11 miles to the Virginia state line is still accessible. Although there are a number of subdivisions in this part of the Currituck Banks, collectively it is referred to as Carova–which is a small town at the northern end.

The name Carova is a truncated version of Carolina (Caro) and Virginia (VA). At one time, it was possible to drive into Virginia from the Outer Banks, entering Virginia Beach at Sandbridge. However, because the Virginia side of the border is occupied by False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, vehicular access is now restricted.

Please make sure that you are comfortable with beach driving, and have the proper vehicle, before you make the trek north of the paved road. Many inexperienced drivers get stuck, and it is very expensive to get a tow. The area is patrolled by Currituck County police, and they do enforce traffic laws. It’s also a very good idea to know when high tide is rolling in because there are times when it can directly affect access. Visitors should take note of low-pressure systems forming offshore.

This is the land of the wild mustangs, which are direct descendants of the Spanish mustangs of the Conquistadors. One of the best ways to view the mustangs is to take a guided tour. Although the horses are the high point of any trek to the Carova area, there is much more to see and a tour is a great way to discover what the northernmost reach of the Outer Banks has to offer. The most unsafe way to see the mustangs is to approach a horse or a herd on the beach. These are truly wild animals. Mares do not like strangers approaching their colts and stallions are proprietary of their herd. Additionally, it is illegal in Currituck County to feed or intentionally come within 50 feet of the horses, and this law is enforced and reinforced vigorously.

Currituck Lighthouse | Corolla, NC

Built in 1875 and standing 162 feet tall, the historic red brick Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, NC is still a beacon of light for passing ships. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Currituck Lighthouse

Currituck Lighthouse

1101 Corolla Village Road,
Corolla, NC 27927
Website

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Built in 1875 and standing 162 feet tall, the historic red-brick Currituck Lighthouse still as a beacon of light for passing ships, with the light still flashing at 20-second intervals from dusk ’til dawn. Climb the winding 220 ships to the top to soak in an unbelievable 360 degree view over the Atlantic ocean and Currituck Sound. Pause on the way up to read the plaques outlining construction, history, preservation, and more. The lighthouse is open for climbing between Easter and Thanksgiving. When the Currituck Beach Light was lit in 1875, it illuminated the last dark spot on the eastern seaboard. Staffed with lighthouse keepers until the middle of the 20th century when they were replaced by automated systems, the lighthouse keeper’s housing and grounds fell into disrepair. Restored by the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., a private non-profit organization, the lighthouse is available for climbing and the view from the top is spectacular. There is a $7 fee for climbing, but the overlook view is worth it.

Corolla Adventure Park | Corolla, NC

The Corolla Adventure Park is a family-friendly ‘jungle gym’ rope course in Corolla, NC, and the largest aerial adventure park on the Outer Banks! Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Corolla Adventure Park

Corolla Adventure Park

1215 Ponton Ln
Corolla, NC 27927
252-597-1997
Website

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Ready for the ultimate challenge? The Corolla Adventure Park is a family-friendly jungle gym rope course, and the largest aerial adventure park on the Outer Banks! Platforms range from 12 to 50 feet high, and there are 11 courses total, rated either beginner, intermediate, or advanced. As a bonus, there’s an amazing vista of the Corolla Lighthouse – the higher you go, the better the view! The park is designed to accommodate all climbers, regardless of experience level, but the recommended minimum age is 4.

Wild Horse Adventure Tours | Corolla NC

Discover the beauty of the wild horses of Carova, and experience the 4×4 beach by booking a tour with Wild Horse Adventure Tours in Corolla, NC. Find out more about them, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Wild Horse Adventure Tours

Wild Horse Adventure Tours

610 Currituck Clubhouse Dr
Corolla, NC
252-489-2020
Website

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No 4×4, no problem! The professional staff at Wild Horse Adventure Tours has a fleet of safari-style Hummers that will transport you along the beach and through the dunes in Carova, a town just north of Corolla where the wild Spanish mustangs roam free. The open-air 13 passenger vehicles allow you to enjoy the sea breeze and salt air as you drive along the beach searching the famed wild ponies. Tours are typically about 2 hours long, and include interesting tidbits about the origin of the horses and the history of the Corolla area!