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.

R/C Kill Devil Hills Movies 10 | Kill Devil Hills, NC

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R/C Kill Devil Hills Movies 10

R/C Kill Devil Hills Movies 10

1803 N Croatan Hwy,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-441-5630
Website

Catch a flick at R/C Theaters Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills, centrally located right on the bypass and the perfect destination for a cloudy day or when you’re nursing that sunburn. The cinema offers 10 theaters so you can catch the latest hits, and often screens 3D movies. KDH Movies 10 is a great family-friendly activity on the Outer Banks!

Aviation Park | Kill Devil Hills, NC

Aviation Park

Aviation Park

109 Veterans Drive
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Website

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Enjoy the many offerings of Aviation Park, tucked back on a quiet street in Kill Devil Hills and offering an array of family-friendly activities. The skate park is one of the most popular highlights of this free public park and offers challenging features for many levels of experience. Pads and helmets aren’t required, but as always, be mindful to keep yourself and others safe. If you’re not a skater, there are plenty of other things to enjoy at Aviation Park, including a walking trail that meanders through the woods and along a pond, playground, and roller hockey rink. You might even see the local Roller Derby team practice while you’re visiting!

Glazin’ Go-Nuts | Kill Devil Hills, NC

Feeling creative? Stop by Glazin’ Go Nuts OBX Art Studio in Kill Devil Hills, NC and enjoy a great selection of paint-your-own-pottery pieces to choose from. Find out more about this, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Glazin’ Go-Nuts

Glazin’ Go-Nuts

2200 N Croatan Hwy,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-449-2134
Website

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Are you feeling creative? Stop by Glazin’ Go Nuts OBX Art Studio in Kill Devil Hills, NC connected to the Front Porch Cafe coffee shop. They have a wonderful selection of paint-your-own-pottery pieces to choose from, and endless colors and glazes to decorate with. Although they are mainly known for their pottery, other art is offered, such as fused glass, canvas painting, and beads, many of which are beach-themed so you can bring home a creative treasure from your trip to the Outer Banks. This is a great rainy day or evening activity for vacationers of all ages!

Avalon Fishing Pier | Kill Devil Hills, NC

Drop a line in the water at Avalon Pier, a classic fishing pier in Kill Devil Hills, NC with a bait and tackle store, throwback arcade with games, and cafe. Find out more about this, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Avalon Pier

Avalon Pier

2111 N Virginia Dare Trail,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-441-7494
Website

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Drop a line in the water at Avalon Pier, a classic structure in Kill Devil Hills with a bait and tackle store, throwback arcade with games and pool tables, and a small cafe. For $1 admission, you can stroll to the end of the pier for a unique vantage point looking back on the shoreline, or purchase a daily or weekly fishing pass to try your hand at catching flounders, stripers, or whatever is biting (all depends on the day, the season, and your skill!). The pier was built in 1962 and has withstood its fair share of nor’easters and hurricanes. It remains a place where locals gather to fish and surf, and out of towners visit for a taste of nostalgic Outer Banks history.

Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf | Kill Devil Hills, NC

Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf in Kill Devil Hills, NC is a hit for kids of all ages, and the perfect thing to do one of your nights on vacation. Find out more about this, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf

Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf

1600 N Croatan Hwy,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-480-0142
Website

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Lost Treasure Putt-Putt Golf is a hit for family members of all ages, and the perfect thing to do one of your nights on vacation. A train cart is half the fun, and transports you to the top of the two 18-hole courses (Diamond or Gold), meandering through a coal mine and up the mountain. The holes follow the fun story of Professor Duffer A. Hacker and include fun obstacles, caves, waterfalls, prehistoric bones, a pirate ship, and more. This is an entertaining activity for family night or date night!

Wright Brother’s Memorial | Kill Devil Hills, NC

The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC is a beautiful space to explore the historical significance of the first flight on Dec 17, 1903. Find out more about this, other activities and things to do, and additional information to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.|{
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Wright Brothers Memorial

Wright Brothers Memorial

1000 N Croatan Hwy,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-473-2111
Website

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When the Wright Brothers first arrived on the Outer Banks in 1900 from Dayton, OH, they initially stayed with Bill Tate, the assistant Post Master for the town (his wife was the Post Master). The house is no longer standing, although there is a marker indicating where it was located on Moor Shore Road. That section of town is often called Kitty Hawk Village and is the oldest settled part of the municipality. Wilbur and Orville Wright later moved their camp to the sand dune and saw a grassy area to the south; this was an area referred to as Kill Devil Hill because of the large dune there. At that time they were still in Kitty Hawk Township, which explains why Kitty Hawk is listed as the location of the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.

The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills is a beautiful space to explore the historical significance of their first flight on Dec 17, 1903. Explore the museum, climb the winding walkway up the hill to the monument, or climb on the life-size replica statue of their 1903 flyer at the base of the hill.

Hang 12 Art Studio and Classes | Kill Devil Hills, NC

Looking for a more exciting souvenir than an OBX T-shirt? Take a painting class or try an art party at Hang 12 Art Studio in Kill Devil Hills, 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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Hang 12 Art Studio and Classes

Hang 12 Art Studio and Classes

3105 N Croatan Hwy,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252-255-2314
Website

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Looking for a more exciting souvenir than an OBX T-shirt? Stop by the Hang 12 Studios at Seagate North Shopping center in KDH. Led by one of our favorite local artists, Brad Price, this space is part gallery, part art-class studio. Brad was a chef at Elizabeth’s Cafe in Duck before pursuing art full-time, and his creativity is apparent. He leads adult and kids classes throughout the summer, choosing different themes for each one, from mermaids to lighthouses to fishing piers. We’ve hosted a few Carolina Designs parties here, and they are loved by all!