Shelter Island’s Shell Beach: Things We Love

Last light at Shell Beach. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Last light at Shell Beach. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

On a small Island, you wouldn’t think that a beach could be considered out-of the way. But Shell Beach might fit the bill.

Not so much a beach as a long, curving peninsula of sand — and yes, shells — flowing out in a crescent, it defines West Neck Harbor. One of the reasons it’s considered hidden away is the approach to Shell Beach is a one-lane, narrow road at the end of Brander Parkway that looks like a private driveway. This is Oak Street Lane, and many people will pass by, afraid of trespassing. But you’re not. If you walk on, the beach opens out, with the bay on one side and the harbor on the other.

The rutted, sand and rock road is a short hike, making its way above scrub and beaches on either side, ending at a perfect sand swimming beach. Bring your bathing suit, because even in October, the water has stayed warm from a hot summer and you don’t have to be really brave to enjoy a good float.

It’s a birder’s paradise. The piping plovers nesting grounds are protected on part of the bay side of Shell Beach. These delightful birds, weighing one-and-a-half to two-and-a-quarter ounces build their nests in sandy areas near dunes. They get their name from the high, “piping” sound they make as they scurry along beaches and take to the skies.

Bluebirds have also been spotted on Shell Beach. Local amateur photographer and birder Don Bindler says they can be seen up until January, sharing the beach and skies with cormorants, a cruising osprey or two, getting ready for their long flights to winter quarters in Florida and the Caribbean.

Sunsets are light shows under the huge bowl of sky, but anytime is the right time for a walk out into the world of Shell Beach.


Credit: Lila Piccozzi Kneeland