Sand dollars are the perfect keepsake when visiting the beach and looking for souvenirs to take home. They are close relatives of sea urchins and starfish, and their smooth exoskeleton is stamped with a flower-like pattern making them quite irresistible to the avid shell collector. If you’re looking for these critters, there are certain times when you’re more likely to find them on the beach.
The best times to find sand dollars is during low tide, when they get washed up on shore. You should also pay attention to the moon and the weather as indicators of when to look for sand dollars. As these creatures get washed up on shore, it’s best to search for them when the tide naturally recedes.
While you can just buy a sand dollar at any souvenir store, it’s more rewarding to find one and take it home. In this article, we’ll discuss the best times to find sand dollars so you can find your own at the beach.
1. Low Tide
The best time to look for sand dollars is in the few minutes before and after low tide. During this time, the waves pull back from the beach, revealing more of the shoreline and exposing the beach.
Low tide also makes it easier to search for sand dollars as you can spot them on the dry ground rather than searching the murky water.
Most sea critters that burrow under the sand during low tides are left out in the open as the water recedes. In fact, most sand dollars on the beach are ones that are left out as a consequence of low tide, and it’s best to scour the sand right after this phase.
You might want to request a tide schedule from the beach authorities so you can find out when it’s low tide and conduct your search accordingly. Low tide usually occurs twice a day, so there’s a large window of time for you to search the sand and find those dollars.
The first phase, when low tide occurs, usually occurs early in the morning.
After the moon’s effect at night, the waves gradually begin to recede until they reach their lowest point. If you’re an early bird, this is probably the best to search for sand dollars. However, if you’re on vacation and prefer sleeping in, you can always visit the beach in the afternoon during the next phase.
Remember that the late afternoon can get pretty intense, and it’s best to avoid staying out in the sun too long, exposing yourself to the heat.
While low tide occurs early in the morning, this doesn’t happen throughout the year. Oceans go through two low and two high tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes. This cycle means at some points, the low tide may occur during a different part of the day.
So it’s best to request a tide schedule so you can plan accordingly.
Low tide is the best time to look for sand dollars as they usually wash up on the shore. You can even wade into the water and stir up the sand to reveal these critters during this time. Your area of exploration is restricted during high tides, and you may not find sand dollars during this time.
2. Early In The Morning
Low tides usually occur twice daily, and one of these phases happens in the morning. As such, early mornings are the best time to look for sand dollars. However, there are fewer disturbances because most people aren’t on the beach too early in the morning.
If a beach is known for sand dollars, you can bet there will be many people out looking for them too. And many of these collectors will probably search throughout the day while spending time at the beach.
You can cut the competition in half by getting there early, ensuring you have more opportunities to find sand dollars. You may still find these creatures in the afternoon, but there will be fewer on the beach, considering most people have picked up the ones that were unearthed during low tide. So if you’re not a morning person, you probably won’t get the best sand dollars.
Thinning the competition isn’t the only reason you should go dollar-picking in the morning.
Early mornings are also when the beach is least disturbed and has the lowest footfall. The reduced disturbance makes it easier to find sand dollars and dig for hidden ones that are usually located under circular mounds of sand.
Additionally, when people walk around the beach, they can step on these sand dollars and damage the critters. As such, even if you find a few, they’re sure to be cracked or damaged somehow.
As such, early mornings, before the crowd sets in, is the best time to find sand dollars.
However, remember to be cautious when looking for sand dollars in the morning, as some dollars that wash up during low tide tend to be alive and kicking. Most states have laws against picking up live sea critters and taking them home.
And why kill a living being when there are plenty of dead sand dollars on the beach?
So before you pick up a sand dollar and take it home, figure out whether it’s alive. If you find that the sand dollar is still alive, put it back in the water immediately because it can only survive out of the water for a short time.
3. New Moon and Full Moon
The moon’s gravitational pull significantly affects the ocean tides, and it’s best to observe the moon’s cycles to determine when to look for sand dollars. The new moon and the full moon are usually when the moon’s influence on the water is strongest, and the ocean experiences the highest and lowest tides during these times.
As such, you’re more likely to have sand dollars wash up on shore during these phases.
The new and full moon typically occurs once a month, and it’s best to make your beach trips around the same time as these lunar phases. Knowing this should help you plan your next vacation, especially if you want to hunt sand dollars.
Aside from the change in tides, the moon affects marine creatures, and some tend to become more active during these phases.
As such, sand dollars are more likely to burrow or spawn during these times, and an increase in their activity increases the likelihood of you spotting one.
However, the change in tides is the main reason for paying attention to the moon. And if the tide is extra low, which happens during full and new moons, you’re more likely to find sand dollars lying around.
Additionally, the low tide during these times is so low that you can safely wade into the sea and stir up the waters to find more sand dollars. However, it’s best to keep the time in this case as the high tide gets really high, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard.
4. After a Storm
Going to the beach during a storm is a terrible idea, and don’t even think about getting in the water. However, if you’re searching for sand dollars, it’s best to head to the beach specifically after a storm and enjoy the bounty.
Storms tend to ruffle the surface of the water, often pushing sea critters out of the water and onto the shore.
Most sand dollars burrow under the sand and get washed up only once they’re displaced. So, for starters, a storm will unearth the sand dollars on shore that are still shielded by sand and hard to spot. The rain will wash away the sand, leaving them exposed so you can pick them up quickly.
Storms also displace the sand at the bottom of the water, causing hidden sand dollars to be tossed about in the waves. Many of these sand dollars are then tossed about by the choppy waves and finally deposited on the shore. And thanks to the storm, they are often exposed even on shore.
The aftermath of a storm is also the best time to find beautiful specimens that might be difficult to come by on calmer days. As sand dollars grow older, they develop a thicker, heavier exoskeleton that stays that way even when they die.
However, a heavier sand dollar buried underwater is almost impossible to displace, even during tidal changes. On the other hand, a storm will stir up the sand and push even the heaviest sand dollars to the surface, causing many of them to wash up on shore.
As such, the aftermath of a storm is the best time to look for sand dollars, and you’re more likely to find much larger specimens during this time. There’s usually a lull after a storm, and visiting the beach during this period is peaceful, even to collect sand dollars.
5. Monsoon Season
While low and high tides occur throughout the year, there are certain months when the moon’s effect is heightened. Additionally, storms are more prone to happen during the monsoon season, making this the ideal time to look for sand dollars.
In most states, August through October would be the best time to visit the beach for sand dollars. The area is more likely to experience a few storms during these times, ensuring you will find a few sand dollars if you look enough.
Additionally, picking the right season means selecting a time when the beach is the least populated as well, as a highly-populated beach means you have fewer chances of spotting sand dollars.
So if you’re looking for sand dollars in summer, you’re less likely to find them as the beach is most populated during this time of the year. As such, it’s best to visit during the off-season, when the crowds have thinned out, and you can explore the beach without too many people disturbing the sand or cracking sand dollar shells.
Tips for Finding Sand Dollars
We’ve discussed the best times to go looking for sand dollars. Keep in mind that low tide is always best, and early mornings will ensure the beach is free to explore, and you can find these critters more easily.
However, arriving at the right time is one thing, but locating a sand dollar can be pretty tricky. Unlike other shells, starfish, or even crabs, sand dollars are pretty elusive and can take considerable work to unearth.
As such, it’s best to keep a few things in mind to make your search easier.
1. Stir Up Some Mud
Sand dollars are usually under the beach sand, and digging up the sand is crucial if you want to find these little critters. So, when you’re wading out into the ocean during low tide, use your feet to stir up the mud under you to uncover their hiding spots.
Of course, you may not find one instantly, but you’re more likely to uncover their hiding spots.
Unlike other creatures, sand dollars burrow deep beneath the sand and aren’t pushed to shore that easily. So you’ll have to wade into shallow waters and try to locate them under the surface. However, when you’re stirring up the sand, be sure to do so as gently as possible so the mud is displaced without obscuring your vision.
2. Look for Circular Depressions
The best time to look for dollars is in the few moments after low tide. However, you may not find a sand dollar lying around on the surface. So when you’re scouring the beach, keep an eye out for circular mounds or depressions on the sand’s surface because this is usually where you’ll find burrowed sand dollars.
Some of these critters get covered by the beach sand during the tide. Fortunately, their shape ensures you can see them even when they’re underground. A circular pattern on the sand is the best indicator of where a sand dollar is located.
3. Tread Lightly
You’ll find sand dollars if you look long and hard enough along the coastline where the surf ends. Most dollars wash up at these points, and you can spot them with a keen eye.
However, sand dollar skeletons are incredibly fragile, and you’ll need to pay careful attention to where you’re stepping when searching for them. Applying too much foot pressure in the wrong place can cause the exoskeleton to crack, leaving you with a broken sand dollar for your collection.
4. Stick to the Shores
Even when it’s not low tide, you’re sure to find a few sand dollars if you stick to the shoreline and keep looking beneath the sand’s surface. While searching in shallow water may help you find these creatures, it takes more work to locate them due to reduced visibility.
Additionally, you’re likely to find live sand dollars instead of skeletons, and it isn’t kind to pick them out of the water and take them home when they’re still a part of the ocean’s ecosystem. As such, stick to the shores where you’re more likely to find sand dollars.
Best Places to Search
Compared to seashells or other sea critters, sand dollars are difficult to spot and aren’t easily located. Additionally, they are typically found highly concentrated on specific beaches.
While they can be found in small quantities throughout the world, there are certain places where you can find sand dollars. So if you’re specifically looking for these critters in the U.S., it’s best to visit specific beaches.
Bowman’s Beach and Tarpon Bay Beach are two beaches in Florida where sand dollars can be spotted quite easily. Tigertail Beach is another spot in Florida with an abundance of sand dollars, and you’re sure to find some beautiful specimens at any time of the day.
However, it’s still best to visit during the morning or at low tide so you can take your pick from the best.
Sometimes, you may need help locating sand dollars on the beach. This difficulty may arise when you arrive late to the beach or if too many tourists and other collectors have already taken the best specimens. Instead of investigating scraps, consider taking a boat to a beach island close by, as these spots tend to have a much higher concentration of sand dollars than the beaches.
Some islands, like the Sand Dollar Island near North Carolina, are hotspots for sand dollars, and you can take your pick from a host of different shapes and sizes. Bear Island, off the coast of Maryland, is another spot where you can find plenty of sand dollars under your feet.
Wondering if you can find sand dollars in Hawaii? Check out my article to find out: Can You Find Sand Dollars in Hawaii?
Just be sure the dollars are dead so you don’t pick the wrong specimens and kill them.