This post is a little bit late, but I still like the idea so much I am sharing. This year for the holidays, instead of a tray of cookies for some of my friends, I gave a "Beach in a Bowl." Here's a photo of my Bowl Assembly Line on my dining room table.
I was lucky enough to be able to gather gorgeous seashells in Florida in December, which I took home, cleaned, and coated with a very light varnish. (These were all washed-up shells. Taking live shells is illegal and wrong.) A good friend mailed me sugar-white sand from her home in the Panhandle (thanks Linda!), and I found nice, 6" diameter glass globe-bowls at the Dollar Store. Small starfish came from a beach shop selling souvenirs. For those whose bowl was being hand delivered, I put one cup of sand in each bowl, then laid flattish sea shells like tiles on the sand. Next, I made sure each bowl got a nice variety of large and medium-sized shells in various colors. Finally, I sprinkled small shells on top, and placed a starfish in the mix. Each bowl also got something unique--a piece of driftwood, a "sea bean," beach glass, a piece of coral, or a sea worm shell.
For my friends whose gift had to be shipped, shells and sand were packaged in separate Ziploc bags, the starfish was wrapped in tissue, and the bowl got swathed in both paper and bubble wrap. Each recipient was able to assemble his or her own "beach."
If you live near a supply of sea shells, you might like this idea as a gift. In the past I have also made a "Beach in a Bottle" using a wide-mouthed, cork-stoppered bottle (from Pier One) laid on its side, ala "Ship in a Bottle." Be sure you get nice clean sand to use. If your beach's sand is not up to par, a trip to the craft store for some bright white sand may be in order.