Stop driving past Shell World in the Florida Keys. It’s a national treasure.

If you’ve ever driven down to Key West – and you have, we know you have – you have driven past Shell World.

But have you ever ventured beyond the shark jaws to step inside? Because if you have, wonder has filled your soul. If not, well, maybe you just weren’t interested in experiencing pure Florida joy. Or maybe you feared the store was a tourist trap designed to separate you from money earmarked for poor decision-making in Key West.

We are here to tell you that you should stop at Shell World. Because Shell World is incredible.

The massive store – 18,000 square feet of Florida realness – sits on the median at Mile Marker 97-and-a-half on the Overseas Highway. You may fear that those tacky souvenirs that have made Florida infamous fill the shelves. You know: Shellacked gator heads. Those plastic place mats your grandparents used to buy. Little bottles with sand in them.

Those things do exist at Shell World, because they have to. This is Florida. But they are only part of the story.

For every one of these…


…there are baskets and baskets of these:


No, we don't know how they know the whelks are left handed, either.

Founder and owner Jim Waterman opened the shop in a gas station across the street in 1972, originally called Jimmy’s American Gas and Gifts. It became Shell World in 1977 and moved to the current space in 1984. Its second location at Mile Marker 106 closed in June.

But that’s OK, because there is literally every Florida thing you could want here at Mile Marker 97-and-a-half. And Shell World is perfect for every budget. Some items cost as little as a quarter. Others will set you back more than $5,000.

You can buy inexpensive bags of shells or rare shells from around the world that are kept safely behind glass. You can run your hands through every type of cowrie shell. There are little shells and big shells and every size in between. Fifty cent shells. Sixty dollar shells.

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And of course there are conch shells. There’s a trough of conch shells. You can also find things that used to be alive, like starfish and sea horses.


And coral, although it’s understandably more expensive.


But there are so many other things to shop for. Wind chimes (made from shells). Jewelry (not made from shells). Housewares and home decor and toys and souvenirs and kites and sunglasses. Signs that advertise “Just Another Day in Paradise” and coffee mugs and wine glasses. Flamingo salt and pepper shakers. Caps and hats and socks and purses. Mako shark replicas. Picture frames made from lobster traps.

There’s an entire mermaid section, people. It’s mer-mazing.


So with all this treasure, what’s the most popular item at Shell World? Director of operations Danielle Hill, who runs the store and is its sole buyer, says that dollarwise, Key Largo t shirts are the most popular. Quantitywise, it’s shells and coral.

“We also sell large amount of gifts and home decor,” she says. “Our name doesn’t reflect that, but once we get them in the door, most customers are amazed and very happy with our overall offering of merchandise.”

We were pretty happy, too, even though we didn’t go home with this:


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