Tarpon Springs, Florida - Tampa Bay Day Trip Destination

Spring Bayou - Tarpon Springs

Sunset on Spring Bayou
Sunset on Spring Bayou | Source

One of the great pleasures of visiting or living in the Tampa Bay area are the many possible day trip destinations; Tarpon Springs being one of special interest. It is a coastal city north of Clearwater with a cultural mix of Greek, Victorian and true Floridian history.

Whether it's an afternoon antiquing in the quaint downtown shops, or an evening of Greek food and music enjoyed along the sponge docks, it provides a full day of enjoyment. BoatU.S. recently listed Tarpon Springs the fifth best city for boaters who want to retire, play and enjoy the coves and beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Along with a first rate, charming performance arts center, a cultural museum, authentic Greek cuisine, cultural workshops (including Greek dancing), dolphin watching, and beautiful sunsets, it's a fabulous city to visit or make home.


Boyer House

Built in 1878 along Spring Bayou
Built in 1878 along Spring Bayou

Tarpon Springs History

The first settlers arrived in 1876 from South Carolina, A.W.Ormond and his daughter Mary, who eventually married Joshua Boyer who had docked near their cabin at Spring Bayou. In 1879 Mary suggested their small settlement of two cabins be named Tarpon Springs because of the plentiful tarpon playing in the bayou. It became an official city in 1887, thanks in great part to Anson P.K. Safford, an investor who was responsible for the initial city-building, politics and culture of the community.

The 1890's brought the wealthy Northerners who built beautiful, stately Victorian homes surrounding the Spring Bayou. They enjoyed the mild winters and the sub-tropical landscape and marine environment, the Florida lifestyle.

The Greek immigration began in 1905 after John King Cheyney formed the Anclote & Rock Island Sponge Company. A Greek immigrant, John Corcoris, began working for Cheyney and was responsible for the first flux of Greek divers into the area. Advertisements for sponge divers had been placed in the Greek language newspapers in the Dodecanese area of the eastern Mediterranean and the rest is history. Around 500 men followed their dreams and made their way to their new home in North America. The Greek district of Tarpon Springs became a replica of the small port cities of the Mediterranean. They brought their cultural identity and customs, their food and drink and knowledge of the sea and sponge diving into Florida and Tarpon Springs became the Sponge Capital of the World.

Antique Shops

Antiques Forever
Antiques Forever

Historic Downtown

One of my favorite things to do is peruse the many antique shops nestled together on the main city block. Vintage turn-of-the-century buildings now are home to antique shops, art galleries, art studios where you can learn directly from the artist and create your own masterpiece. There are bed and breakfast inns, numerous boutiques and cafes.

The antique shops are a popular destination for antique buffs and collectors. One of my personal favorites is Court of Three Sisters which includes an upstairs and numerous rooms full of beautiful antiques, furniture, jewelry, art, clothing, and gorgeous hand-crafted linens and tablecloths. Across the street in one of the shops, I found a beautiful Renoir print in the back of the store just begging to be bought for only $10.00. I had the perfect frame and matting at home and that night it was hanging on the wall behind my bed. Most of the shops accept consignments and will even come to your home for a pick-up. They are knowledgeable of their trade and very friendly.

Downtown Tarpon Springs

Safford House

Built in 1883
Built in 1883

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is an exact replica of St. Sophia's in Constantinople. The church is very active in the community and hosts the annual Epiphany celebration, the diving for the Cross. It is held each year in the center of the city at Spring Bayou, nearby to the cathedral.

Museums and Cultural Centers

There are delightful museums and cultural centers and they offer a pleasant experience for the history buffs as well as for those who enjoy art and artifacts from the area. Located downtown is the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society Railroad Depot Museum. It is home to the Historical Society which sponsors monthly programs on the history of the city. It also sponsors annual events such as the Remembrance Tea, the Historic House Tour and the Society Picnic.

The Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum is beautifully renovated and located at Craig Park, which surrounds Spring Bayou. It is a beautiful facility which gives an amazing historical overview of the city tracing back to pre-historical through World War ll.

The Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center is a wonderful place to experience everything from world class Opera to Latin guitarists. It is an active center providing the community with a top-class cultural experience in a quaint building which also serves as the current City Hall. You won't be disappointed. I have had the pleasure of attending numerous shows and have always walked away amazed at the talent available to us in this area. It is a smaller, intimate setting where the performers come out and mingle with the guests.

The Tarpon Springs Cultural Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located in the old, historic City Hall and hosts various exhibits, performances and films. It also has a very unique gift shop which includes beautiful jewelry, ceramics and local art.

The Safford House Museum is the restored home of one of the city's founders, Anson P.K. Safford. Originally built in 1883, a Victorian architectural beauty is a trip back in time, very much worth the guided tour. It takes the visitor back to a gracious time,a glimpse of family life without the pressures of our fast-paced modern society.


Welcome to The Sponge Capital of the World

Sponges hang outside of shops along Dodecanese Blvd.

click on image to enlarge
click on image to enlarge

Map of Sponge Dock Restaurants

show route and directions
A markerMama's Greek Cuisine 735 Dodecanese Blvd. Tarpon Springs -
735 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

B markerCosta's 521 Athens St. Tarpon Springs -
521 Athens St, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

C markerZorba's Taverna and Nightclub 508 Athens St. Tarpon Springs -
508 Athens St, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

D markerHellas Restaurant and Bakery785 Dodecanese Blvd. Tarpon Springs -
785 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

E markerLimani's 776 Dodecanese Blvd. Tarpon Springs -
776 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

F markerRusty Bellies Waterfront Grill -
937 Dodecanese Boulevard, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689, USA
[get directions]

Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks

This is the heartbeat of the Greek community located along the beautiful Anclote River, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Being the Sponge Capitol of the World, there are many shops selling assorted sizes and shapes of sponges. The sheepwool is the softest and smoothest and the most sought after purchase. They can be seen all along the main street, Dodecanese, hanging outside of shops. The local shop owners are more than happy to talk about their wares and may even give a short history lesson about the sponge.

There are many different shops and boutiques selling European fabrics, elegant clothing, lively Greek sundresses, sandals, hats, swimwear, non-toxic soaps and candles, oils, imported olive oil. There are also markets selling Greek and Mediterranean food, wine, pastries, and breads. There are art galleries, souvenir shops and just about anything you would find in a typical Mediterranean village. The atmosphere is very open and there are just as many locals mixed in with the tourists.

There are many Greek restaurants and cafes. Rather than listing all of them, I will suggest a few of my favorites. Some of them provide outside cafe style seating as well as casual indoor dining. One of my favorites is Mama's Greek Cuisine. The food is amazing. The atmosphere is like that of a Greek island and this is where the locals like to congregate for food and fun. Costa's is another favorite off of Dodecanese on Athens St. This is also where the locals like to eat, so you know the food is authentic Greek, not tourist Greek. Zorba's provides a lively atmosphere which is also family friendly. It's not unusual to see the young children dancing Greek style to the live music. Hella's Bakery is the the place to go for dessert. Simply looking at their bakery is enough reason to forget the word 'calories' for a day or so. (You'll walk them off soon enough.) The locals also enjoy gathering here for coffee, dessert and socializing. There's nothing like a good political 'debate', in Greek of course, over a slice of baklava and espresso! The best, freshest gyros can be found at Limanis, where you can take out or eat outside along the waterfront. A trip to Tarpon Springs isn't complete without a stop at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill with its fabulous fresh seafood (from their own boats) and refreshing waterfront tiki bar. Everything is delicious including their hushpuppies, six for $1.00!

There are also cruise excursions, deep sea fishing and diving exhibitions which leave the docks on a regular schedule. Also towards the end of Dodecanese is the Konger Tarpon Springs Aquarium, which is a small, beautiful hidden treasure.

Enjoy the Sponge Docks!!

You May Need Two Days!

I haven't touched on everything to see, including the Anclote Lighthouse, Howard Park (beach) and the amazing Leepa Rattner Museum, but I hope I've given enough reasons to make Tarpon Springs one of your Tampa Bay day trip destinations. You may need two days and you'll want to keep coming back! OPA!

Thank You For Reading and Please Feel Free to Leave a Comment. 26 comments

De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

I love you!!! :-)))

I flew over to the US once just to see that Greek village.

Asked the Greek waiter to bring me only fresh fish. He nodded and when he came back witht eh fish, he said

"Even it's mother doesn't know it's missing". I thought it was hilarious :-)))


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

What happened to my comment??? :-)


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

oh, it is here! I was outside trimming trees after being on the computer for so long. Thanks for being my first visitor. how perfectly appropriate!! that is funny what the waiter said!! I've had the fish served with their heads... you know what comes next. it's so much fun, a wonderful place. that is awesome that you flew over to see the village!! you'll have to come back! :] oh, I love you too!! xo


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

SHhhh, This area sounds like an authentic experience without too many crowds and personal attention given to the visitors that discover your secret...ok you can tell a few;);)


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

I would like to visit Tarpon Springs. I have heard good things from other people and your did a wonderful job of pointing out all the highlights.


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 6 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

It seems to be cute village. Touch of Mediterranean on the other part of the world, so interesting. Nice regards - from Mediterranean.


miss_jkim profile image

miss_jkim 6 years ago

rebekah,

Lovely hub, makes me want to get in my car and drive down. I have always loved Tampa, it's a beautiful city, now I will have an additional reason to visit.

I LOVE Greek food and havn't had anything close to origional since I returned from Europe. That alone would make me visit Tarpon Springs.

Again, thank you for such an insightful hub.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

mentalist, lol, you're right.. so the lucky ones will enjoy their trip. I think something I have learned from traveling is to try and immerse yourself in the culture, become Greek or Bostonian or French or wherever you may be, for the enjoyment!

@thanks Pamela, I'm sure you would love the area. There's a lot to do or you can go sit on the beach and enjoy the Gulf of Mexico.

@Tatjana, thanks for sharing. yes, it is a beautiful city and is a fun place to visit.. and live. I have many friends/family who live there. xo

@miss_jkim, thanks so much for reading and sharing. If you love Greek food, you would love the sponge dock restaurants. we eat there often, and I think I've only been disappointed once, probably my fault for ordering pasta! :]


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

It has been years since I was down in Florida. This make me want to go again.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

thanks Sandy. it is fun. we went there last night for gyros at The Limani and sat by the docks. the sunset was gorgeous, the people are friendly and then we went to Lori's and bought goats milk soap. I love walking in the store as it smells amazing and the soaps are all hand made in the local community. thanks for reading!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

It's been a long time since I've been to Florida too. Tarpon Springs sounds beautiful, a great place to visit. I remember an old 1950's movie about Greek sponge divers in Florida (of course somebody get the bends), can't remember if it was Tarpon Springs or not.


theindianblues profile image

theindianblues 6 years ago from Some where on the Globe

I am visiting Tampa (St Pets) bay this year end and this would be a great help for me to have some idea over the area. Thanks for sharing such a nice topic.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

thanks Dolores. I think the movie probably was about Tarpon Springs. It really is a beautiful, fun place to visit. I go there at least once a week. :]

theindianblues, so nice to see you. I hope you enjoy your visit to the area. you may also want to read my hub about the Tampa Bay area, including the three major cities. http://hubpages.com/travel/Tampa-Bay-Metro-Area-Hu... it covers a lot of places to see also. thanks for reading and leaving your comment! :)


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

Wow you learn something every day! Sponge capitol of the world! What a great place Tampa Bay is and if I ever get to visit America I will put it on my 'to see' list!

I love that little cottage in you images!


CrisKat profile image

CrisKat 6 years ago

Great one! I am going to Homosassa Springs in january so i'll make sure to add this as a day trip. Thanks


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

You have written a wonderful article about Tarpon Springs. With your permission I would love to add it to the one I have written about the Sponge Capitol of the world.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

thanks agvulpes! yes, please put it on your must visit list. you won't be disappointed! thanks for reading.

@chriskat, you wull love Homosassa springs. It's beautiful and serene, very peaceful. And you see the manatees in January! enjoy your trip.

@Peggy, thank you! sure, you can link the hubs. I will have to take a look at yours also. I'll be sure to take a look at your hub. thanks for reading and sharing!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Just added your wonderful hub as a link to mine. Thanks!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Sounds like a great place to visit! Love the style that you have!


Shavonm 5 years ago

I love tarpon. I grew up here. It's not what it used to be since the economy took a dive, with Pappas closing. There's really nothing to drive traffic to the Sponge Docks. However, that does not change the beautiful homes and landscaping of the town. Proud to be a Tarpanian!


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

Having grown up there, I'm sure you've seen all the changes that happen in most communities over time. I love to eat gyros at Limani's on the Sponge docks. I also enjoy sitting outside enjoying espresso and a freshly made Greek dessert. Have you been to the new Riverside Grille in the old Pappas? I've been to the rooftop dining area, The Veranda, and enjoyed it a lot. They also play live music during the week. Thanks for reading and commenting.

I also love Tarpon, it's a beautiful town.


Hunter Goodman profile image

Hunter Goodman 4 years ago from Texas

very well written hub, thanks for the info


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

I love the Tampa Bay area and this hub made me nostalgic for another trip back to my native state of Florida. Visiting the sponge docks and the downtown shops is a favorite pass time whenever I get to the Gulf Coast. I lived in Tampa for many years before moving to Texas and still miss it. So many fun things to do there.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 3 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

Thanks Pam. You're right about there being so many fun things to do here. I would miss it too if I moved away. I live very close to Tarpon, so I'm there at least twice a week. I see the view in the top photo often. There is something very comforting for me to be near the water. There are a few new restaurants that I should add to the list above. It's always a treat to dine at one of the many great restaurants on the sponge docks or downtown. I hope you make it back to the Sunshine State soon.


Shinkicker profile image

Shinkicker 2 years ago from Scotland

The 'Sponge Capital of the World' may not be a great selling point :-) But it looks like a great place, lots of variety, charm and colour. Just like your Hub. Thanks for an enjoyable read and virtual tour around a fascinating place.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 2 years ago from Tampa Bay Author

Hey Shinkicker, nice to see you. Actually, it is a rather fascinating selling point. They sell and ship a lot of the world's sponges far and wide. This history of the city wouldn't be the same without the arrival of the sponge divers from the Greek isles. I'm there often because my son and his family live on that road in the top photo. It's a fun place to find antiques and eat fabulous, authentic Greek food. If you ever find your way over to this part of the world, I'll be your guide. :)

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