Welcome to an article on the Sponge Capital of the world. Tarpon Springs, situated in Central Florida is the perfect and one of the classic vacation destinations in continental US.
Travelers are encouraged to visit the place, firstly because of its amazing Greek culture and history and secondly to save the remnants of the Sponge industry that subsists itself on local and international tourism.
This fun and inexpensive place along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico is as Greek as it gets. Most people travel to this place only to get a taste of its delicious Baklava or to walk down the Dodecanese Blvd glancing through the cute handmade signs outside the series of eateries.
You will definitely enjoy the smell of gyro strips in the air and if you are around the docks, the calming nature of the place truly makes it the ‘Venice of the South.’
Without further ado, let’s get started with the list of must-visits in Tarpon Springs.
Take a walk along the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
You can walk along the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and feel yourselves to be in Greece. This historic dock is situated on the Dodecanese Blvd to which we shall return in a bit. The Sponge Docks are certainly the heart of Tarpon Springs and once, the highest revenue earner of Florida.
Valued at 3 million dollars a year, the sponge industry was at its heydays in the late 19th century. This is the time when Tarpon Springs saw the largest Greek immigration who came to the area to work in the booming Sponge industry.
It was the Greeks who initiated natural sponge harvesting in this place and developed the dive-and-harvest technique.
It is quite unfortunate to see the natural sponge industry being rapidly replaced by artificial ones. Tarpon Springs heavily depends on tourism lately. Once you are here, there are a ton of activities that you can enjoy or take part in.
Have beach-style fun at Fred Howard Park
We will return to the Sponge-related activities in a while. But before that, let’s check out what other vacation things you can enjoy at Tarpon Springs. For many travelers, Tarpon Springs is all about the beaches. Fred Howard Park, a 155 acres park, along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
With acres of clean, white beach and blue waters, you can enjoy a rejuvenating day here. The park has separate picnic spots, restrooms, kayak and paddleboard rentals for you to relax and have fun.
If you want to check out more parks in Tarpon Springs, then we suggest you visit A.L. Anderson Park to try out their hiking routes or have a picnic by Lake Tarpon. You can also take a quick look at the Whitcomb Bayou that is the urban park in Tarpon Springs.
Enjoy a splendid sunset at the Sunset Beach
It is for a reason that Tarpon Springs was once called the “Venice of the South.” The place has over 50 miles of water surrounding it. The Sunset Beach is one of the favorite man-made beaches at Tarpon Springs. With a $5 parking fee, this place is situated at a convenient location.
If you are traveling with your family, this beach is a must-visit. This clean, calm, and inexpensive beach has shallow waters, so it is comparatively safer for your children. The miles of white sand will also have a calming effect on your soul.
You can kick back on the beach to enjoy a beautiful and romantic sunset if you are traveling with your partner. When hungry, go for the built-in grills inside the beach.
Have old-school fun at Replay Amusement Museum
This is the best place to be if you want to catch a game at the pinball machine or try your luck at some of the popular 80s or 90s’ video games. If you miss your childhood filled with these games, then stop by the Replay Amusement Museum to bask in nostalgia for a bit.
The best part is that all the machines are set to ‘Free Play’ mode. So, once you pay at the main desk, you are free to try out any or all the games. The official website asks tourists to call beforehand to check availability of seats, especially on weekends.
Get a peek at Greek heritage at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
If you wish to get an essence of the Greek culture and heritage, we suggest you stop by Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Pinellas Avenue. In addition to getting a peek at Greek heritage and culture, you are also bound to find solace.
The place is calm and soothing to just sit back and reflect. If you are traveling to get away from the chaotic hustle-bustle of life, just spend an hour in solitude at this place. Other than that, the architecture is breathtaking.
The Cathedral is the tallest structure in Tarpon Springs and the interior is decorated in traditional Greek orthodox style. Built in 1904, most of the exhibits inside have been there before the World Wars.
Check out a Picasso painting at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art
This is a small museum but with lots to offer. If you are planning to visit this place, then check out their events calendar beforehand as the museum hosts a number of art exhibitions and so on round the year.
This is a great place for students to learn or gather educational resources. Also, if you wish to check out a life-size replica of Picasso’s Guernica, one of his most famous paintings, then you might consider stopping by this museum for some time. You can also take part in their art workshops or adult programs if interested.
Visit Tarpon Springs Aquarium and Animal Sanctuary
If you are traveling with your family, this is a great place to be. Tarpon Springs Aquarium, located on North Pinellas Avenue, has been operational since the 1990s.
Currently, the Aquarium is run by the Konger family. At the Aquarium, you can literally have hands-on experience, that means, you can even pet some of the animals or feed sharks, Tarpon Rays, turtles or gators. Want to hold a snake?
They let you do that as well. The visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the day pass ranges from $19.99 for adults to $14.99 for children.
Eat Greek at Tarpon Springs
This is the most awaited part. Stuff yourself with Greek delicacies at several popular restaurants at Tarpon Springs. The large Greek population has led to the establishment of innumerable Greek eateries.
Most of these are lined along the Dodecanese Blvd but you will also find few along the Tarpon Springs’ downtown avenue. To start with, we suggest you try out Mama’s Greek Cuisine. This place will never disappoint you. With live music and mouth-watering gyro and souvlaki, you are bound to have a good experience.
Next, go for a Greek coffee at National Bakery. If you got a sweet tooth, then you can also try out their special desserts like lemon bars, baklava, almond cookies or coconut macaroons.
Another must-visit Greek eatery is Hellas.
This place has a lot to offer and also has an adjacent bakery. Hellas attracts a huge number of tourists every year. And if you go back without trying their Shrimp ala Hellas or their Greek scallops, then you are missing out on a lot.
Check out Spongeorama Sponge Factory
Spongeorama is another classic tourist destination in Tarpon Springs. Once you have visited the Sponge Docks, then make a quick stop at this Sponge Factory that claims to be the reservoir of the World’s largest selection of natural sponges.
Built in 1968, the place also has a little museum and a movie theatre inside. This is the best place to pick up souvenirs for friends and families. The Spongeorama souvenir shop has a range of items to offer.
You can also sit through a short and free documentary on the sponge industry at Spongeorama. If you find the natural sponges too expensive here, then head straight to Tarpon Sponge Exchange to get yourself a special Tarpon Spring souvenir.
Go on a Tarpon Springs Diving Tour
If you are at Tarpon Springs on vacation and you go without witnessing sponge diving, then the visit is really not worth it. The place offers multiple boat rides or even cruise rides where tourists can witness how divers harvest natural sponge in reality.
The best one is hosted by St. Nicholas Boat Lines. Established in 1924, this remains one of the oldest attractions of Florida. And St. Nicholas Diving tours attract thousands of tourists over the year.
The session is for about 40 minutes and the tour includes a detailed narration of the history of sponge harvesting since the early days. You can book your tour beforehand or even get a ticket from their old-fashioned ticket booth.
Experience a cruise ride at Tarpon Springs
There are a lot of fun things to do around Tarpon Springs and getting on a cruise is one of them. Travelers have the option of going for a shelling tour or special boat rides to go fishing. You also have options to go sunset cruising and dolphin watching here in Tarpon Springs.
If you want to go shelling, we suggest you take a trip to the Anclote key Preserve State Park. Children will especially love this tour. You can also check out Odyssey Cruises for their special cruise offers. Travelers can also book themselves for Dolphin Deep Sea Fishing.
This is bound to be an adventurous ride. Here, first-timers are taught how to fish. These tours are $80 for adults and $65 for children under 12. They provide you with the fishing line and the bait. All you need to do is enjoy!
Book a Tarpon Springs Helicopter Tour
Get an aerial view of the “Venice of the South” by going on a helicopter ride in Tarpon Springs. This fancy ride launches from the Clearwater Airpark which is pretty close to the beach. After departing from there, the helicopter ride will take you above the historic Sponge Docks and then fly above the Anclote River.
The scenic beauty from up top is something that makes this ride worth it. You get to go across Palm Harbor, Clearwater beach, Crystal beach, Caladesi island and the Honeymoon island and experience those places from a different angle altogether. If you are a photographer, you will get some amazing pictures to save forever. It is a 30-minute tour that will cost you around $45.
Head over to Silverking Brewing Company
If you are exhausted after all the travel, then head over to the Silverking Brewing Company to relax for some time. Tarpon Springs’ craft beer scene is evolving by each passing day.
If you want to try out some of their artisanal beer then this fish-themed brewery will definitely offer you something new to experiment. Did you know this brewing company is situated inside an abandoned fire station?
Wine lovers can also check out Springs Castle Winery which is the only winery that offers European-style wine east of Mississippi.
Go on a shopping spree
It cannot be that you are at Tarpon Springs and you return empty-handed. The best way to avoid that is to go shopping. We have listed out some of the must-visit shops at Tarpon Springs. Do pay them a visit. If you love handmade incenses or soaps then visit GetAGuru that has a middle-eastern décor.
Other than that, you can visit Lori’s Sponges and Soaps to get a selection of amazing souvenirs or gifts. Stop by Miss Merrie’s Sweets & Treats to try out their saltwater taffy or pack some candies for the trip back to home.
You can even check out the Spice and Tea Exchange for a range of available options of spices, teas, pepper, etc.
Dance at Opa! Palooza Greek Festival
If you plan to travel around June, it’s time for the Opa! Palooza, the annual Greek cultural festival celebrated at Sponge Docks. This festival attracts a lot of crowd from neighboring towns as well as internal tourists who come to celebrate the weekend-long festival, Greek-style.
Other than that, Tarpon Springs is also a lively place during all the Greek festivals such as the Day of Epiphany, Greek Independence Day or even their popular seafood festival.
With this, we have come to the end of our list.
If you’re interested you can also check out the other museums at the place to know more about the Greek culture and history. Till then, happy travels!