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Here Are 5 Things to Do in Tarpon Springs, Florida

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On the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Tarpon Springs, Florida, is said to have the largest number of Greek-heritage inhabitants outside of Greece. So, if you’re looking for a day or weekend trip in the Tampa Bay area without getting your passport stamped, Tarpon Springs is a prime destination. It’s located 13 miles north of Clearwater and about 25 miles from Tampa.

So what’s the story behind Tarpon Springs, and why should you visit it? The town reflects its Greek heritage in full force. You’ve got Greek restaurants, flags, markets, and Greek music piping through the stores. Many of the buildings are painted white, so you’ll feel like you’re in Greece even if you just took a short drive to get there. The town is located along the Anclote River, and you can feel the breeze off the water if you’re walking near the Sponge Docks.

Statue of a traditional Tarpon Springs sponge diver.

Wait, Sponge Docks–what are those? Well, that’s another reason to visit Tarpon Springs, which is the oldest city in Pinellas County. The town has an interesting history related to sponge diving and is often called the Sponge Diving Capital of the World. The natural sponges that you use for cleaning or your skin care routine come from the sea and local rivers, and sponge divers (many from Greece, who already had experience with sponge diving) came to the area after the accidental discovery of an abundance of sponges in the area in the 1890s. Around that same time, Tarpon Springs became a winter resort for rich northerners. Tarpon Springs became the largest sponge port in the U.S. by 1900 and reached its peak in the 1930s. After that, a disease affected a large portion of the sponges, although sponge diving continues in smaller numbers today. The Tarpon Springs sponge docks also remain active for commercial fishing.

When you’re in Tarpon Springs, you’ll see pictures and a statue of the old-fashioned diving uniforms used by sponge divers that look like astronaut suits.

So, now that you know more about the history of Tarpon Springs, let’s talk about what you can do when you visit. Here are five fun activities for your next visit to Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Various sponges you can find inside stores in Tarpon Springs.

5 Things to Do in Tarpon Springs

  • Discover more of Tarpon Spring’s history and learn about the different kinds of sponges. We gave you the dime-store history tour of Tarpon Springs in our description above, but you can go into a lot more detail. At stores like Spongeorama Sponge Factory on Dodecanese Blvd. and The Sponge Factory (at the corner of Dodecanese and N. Pinellas Ave., you can watch short, free films all about sponges and the sponge diving business in Tarpon Springs. You’ll get a kick out of these retro films and may even feel like you’re back in middle school science class, using the time with the lights low to take a nap. Seriously though, the films are informative, and you’ll learn that there are different types of sponges and that sponges have oodles different purposes. Fun fact: Loofahs–often used to exfoliate the skin–are not actually sponges. Tarpon Springs also has a Greektown Historic District (which includes the tourist area) located on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
Baklava and flogeres from Hella’s Bakery.
  • Eat. If you’re going to go to Tarpon Springs, you have to try the local/Greek food. You’ll hear restaurant promoters beckoning you to their restaurant (“Come have some lunch, ladies,” “Are you hungry? Best lunch in town!”) If you’re new to Greek food, here are a few dishes to consider ordering: gyro (a type of sandwich with lamb, beef or other meat, along with onion and traditional tzatziki sauce in a pita bread), lamb shish kabobs, calamari, Greek salad (with olives and feta cheese and tomatoes, yum), rack of lamb, and spanokopita (a spinach pie with phyllo dough, spinach, and feta cheese). For desserts, think honey. Greek desserts are rich in honey, with baklava probably the best known dessert. Baklava combines phyllo dough with honey and chopped nuts. Other desserts seem to be variations on the honey/syrup and phyllo dough theme. And where to eat in Tarpon Springs? There are lots of great restaurants but some of the top- ranking ones on TripAdvisor include Hellas, Toula’s Trailside Cafe, Mr. Soulvaki, Mykonos, The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine. We enjoyed The Limani (number 8 on the TripAdvisor list) both for the fresh food but also its breezy, less crowded location right on the water. Hella’s Bakery & Restaurant is your go-to for Greek desserts.
  • Take a cruise. We’re not talking Carnival or Royal Caribbean. Instead, hour-long cruises that focus on dolphin watching, eco tours, relaxing (and we think drinking) are a focal point as you walk along Dodecanese Blvd. near the sponge docks. You’ll hear companies like Spongeorama Cruise Lines and Odyssey Cruises promoting their cruise tour specials and luring in visitors. We didn’t take a cruise but we’ve included links here to some of the cruise companies. It definitely seems like part of the Tarpon Springs experience and at the very least, you’ll enjoy the breezy boat trip.
Mural with the old-fashioned sponge diver. Notice the street sign names in English and Greek.
  • Shop. With Tarpon Springs so well known for its sponge diving, it’s not a stretch to think that the local stores are filled with sponges–lots of them. Most are reasonably priced as well. There also are many olive oil-based scented soaps because, well, the whole Mediterranean and olive oil connection. You’ll also find cute gift sets (about $7) with a small sponge along with a scented soap. If you’re a foodie, stop inside one of the Greek markets like Agora Food Market to load up on feta cheese, Greek beer, olives, and other Greek delicacies. Of course, you’ll find your share of Florida, Greek, and Tarpon Springs-themed T-shirts (one find: “I’m not yelling, I’m Greek!”). One other store we enjoyed: Getaguru, a handmade soap store (operated by the same family since 1934) with some cool artwork inside. It’s located right on Dodecanese Blvd.
Found outside Spongearama in Tarpon Springs.
  • Go to church. Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral has been a community pillar since 1907, bringing together local residents for events and worship. In addition to services (in both Greek and English), it’s worth a visit for its beautiful Byzantine-meets-modern architecture and stained-glass windows. The current location was built in 1943. Fun fact: The cathedral was named for Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Greece and protector of sea-faring people.

There’s lots more to do in Tarpon Springs (we even wrote about it 10 years ago–see that story link here). Feel free to share anything else you’ve enjoyed during a visit or what you’d like us to write about in the future regarding Tarpon Springs. Opa!


Written by floridaculture

March 15, 2021 at 3:53 pm

One Response

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  1. […] sponges and olive oil soap, and take a dolphin-sighting cruise on the Anclote River. Check out this article from blogger Florida Culture for more details on Tarpon […]

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