Travelers making their way to Panama City Beach, Florida, might receive recommendations to visit a popular vacation stop known as Shell Island. This piece of paradise sits off the coast of Panama City Beach and offers a variety of ways to enjoy both ocean views and wildlife. If you’ve never visited this part of Florida before, you’ll need to know how to get to Shell Island.
As an undeveloped barrier island, traveling to Shell Island is a bit unconventional. Although the gorgeous beaches are considered a must-see stop for tourists in the area, knowing what to expect can ensure that you have a safe and easy trip.
Where is Shell Island, Florida Located?
Shell Island is a 7-mile long barrier island that rests between the Gulf of Mexico (to the west) and Saint Andrews Bay (to the east). On a map, you can quickly find Shell Island in close proximity to Panama City Beach, St. Andrews State Park, and Tyndall Air Force Base. On the south side, the island is surrounded by St. Andrew Sound.
According to the locals, Shell Island has the appearance of a mirage if you’re standing on the shore and looking in its direction. Although it might have a classic deserted island vibe, the island’s unique location and relatively untouched natural ecosystem make it a true gem.
To get a view before you visit, there’s even a live Shell Island Cam! This camera looks out over the jetty and onto the shore so that you can take a sneak peek before you make the trek.
How to Get to Shell Island, Florida
The only way to get to Shell Island is through the water. Unlike islands that have been developed or made accessible by other transportation methods, there are no bridges or roads leading to Shell Island. Local Florida residents and tourists alike must arrive on the island by boat or watercraft.
Traveling by Boat
Even though Shell Island might feel like a personal paradise, you don’t need any special permission to visit. If you own a personal boat or choose to rent one during your time in the area, you can boat to Shell Island and anchor close to shore.
One popular option is to rent a pontoon boat in Panama City Beach and sail over to Shell Island. Not only does this allow you the opportunity to find and explore the island, but spending the day out on the pontoon can be a relaxing choice. Pontoon boats generally hold about ten people, so it’s easy to enjoy the sights and sounds of Shell Island as a large group.
If you choose to rent a boat to get to the island, you must ensure that the driver is the appropriate age (21 years) and has the correct documentation according to Florida law.
How NOT to Travel to the Island
While it’s true that taking a trek to Shell Island can make you feel like a real ocean explorer, it’s still recommended that you follow certain safety measures to protect yourself and any accompanying travelers. For that reason, it’s not recommended that you try to get to Shell Island by any of the following means.
- Paddleboarding. Paddleboards are a great idea once you’ve docked your boat and have a full day of island hopping ahead of you. It is not recommended, however, that you make any attempts to paddleboard to the island from the main Florida shore or from St. Andrews State Park.
- Swimming. Although it may go without saying, Shell Island is too far offshore to attempt a swim across St. Andrews Bay. Reserve your energy for swimming near the island’s beaches once you’re there, or join a snorkel tour for an up-close and personal look at the wildlife within the reef. There are several designated swimming spots in the area that you can use for recreation and fun.
- Hang gliding. There are many ways to enjoy air sports like hang gliding and parasailing in the Panama City Beach area, but don’t make any attempts to cross the air on your own. Keep in mind that Shell Island is in close proximity to an Air Force base, and any in-air activity should be approved and recognized by an official company.
The Shell Island Shuttle
The Shell Island Shuttle is by far the safest and easiest way to get to Shell Island. The shuttle experience itself is a favorite memory for many travelers, as it has been in business for many years. The shuttle operates out of St. Andrews State Park, which offers a variety of camping, kayaking, fishing, and wildlife activities for visitors.
If you would like to reserve your tickets in advance, the shuttle service offers an easy way to book and pay online. The average adult price is around $20, and children over 2 years of age ride for $13. Since the shuttle operates all day in 30-minute rotations, you can plan to stay or leave at your leisure.
Shuttle schedules and offerings may change with each season. You can contact the State Park at (850) 753-8288 to check for any changes before you arrive.
What to Expect on the Shell Island Shuttle
When you book a trip on the Shell Island Shuttle, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- The entire ride only takes about 10 minutes or less! The shuttle service is the fastest way to get to Shell Island with experienced boat drivers who are familiar with navigating local waters. The views are excellent, so have your camera ready!
- Passengers are dropped off in a cove near the Shell Island Jetty. This is a communal spot for gathering and playing, and it’s only a short walk to the Gulf Coast portion of the island.
- There are no restrooms available on the shuttle or on the island. You and your guests should plan accordingly for the duration of your trip to Shell Island.
- Animals are not permitted to travel on the Shell Island Shuttle. If your dog is along for the ride, you’ll need to make other arrangements or travel by personal boat.
- Travelers are expected to leave Shell Island in the same pristine location that they found it. This means that all visitors are expected to pick up trash and other belongings.
Is Shell Island Worth the Trip?
Now that you know where Shell Island is located, your next question might be whether Shell Island is worth the trip. While the answer depends on your individual preferences and vacation ideas, you can rest assured that Shell Island is unique, beautiful, and unforgettable.
Not only does the island offer miles of untouched beaches, but it also has an amazing array of wildlife. If you want an up-close look at sand dollars, conch shells, whelk, and olive shells, Shell Island is the perfect stop for collecting tiny treasures.
Plus, you might even be lucky enough to spot bottlenose dolphins or sea turtles! Both types of creatures frequent the waters in and around Shell Island, and it’s not uncommon to run into them in close proximity. Shell Island is also home to plenty of species of wild birds, which makes it a popular stop for experienced birdwatchers.
Points of Interest Near Shell Island
Fortunately, the area near Shell Island offers plenty of enjoyable activities and points of interest! Once you’ve made a visit, be sure to check out other nearby attractions, such as:
- Panama City Dolphin Seafari – With Panama City Dolphin Seafari, you can plan for the experience of a lifetime! Whether you choose a group or private dolphin tour, you’ll have the opportunity to interact and swim safely with dolphins in their natural environment. Dolphin Seafari also offers private boat rentals, pontoon boats, fishing charters, and snorkeling tours.
- St. Andrews State Park – St. Andrews State Park is known for offering a little bit of everything! Whether you want to camp, hike, swim, fish, or snorkel, you’ll have the chance to do it all. The park is also known for its storied history and wildlife.
- Panama City Bike Rentals – When you visit the city and downtown areas near Shell Island, you won’t run out of ways to stay active! Rent a bike, and start exploring the shops, local businesses, and restaurants along the coast. It’s a great way to divide your time between land and sea.
Explore Shell Island on Your Next Vacation
If relaxing on white sand beaches with emerald green waters at your feet sounds like the perfect getaway, then make sure you know how to get to Shell Island. All that’s missing from this picturesque island destination is you and your family and friends!