Tarpon Springs - Sponge Docks and Restaurants
On our recent visit to Port Richey, Florida, we set aside a day to visit Tarpon Springs. It was quick drive from our vacation house, and I had always wanted to visit the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. Unfortunately, I think we chose the hottest day of the year for our adventure, so we didn’t see everything we wanted to see, but it was still a great side trip. Tarpon Springs ,FL is only about 30 miles north of Tampa, but it has a completely different personality. It’s a quaint, friendly village, where no one ever seems to get in a hurry. The Greek influence is readily noticeable, and you can even hear Greek being spoken on the streets. Tarpon Springs was established in 1887, mostly by Greek immigrants. High quality natural sponges grew off the coast of the city, and Greek sponge divers were hired to harvest them. Most of the sponge divers came from the Greek islands of Symi, Halki, and Kalymnos. Today, about 12% of the population of Tarpon Springs is Greek.
Tarpon Springs, FL
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks:
Tarpon Springs Restaurants:
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
The Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks have had their ups and downs over the years. When a red tide killed most of the sponges off the coast of Tarpon Springs in the late 1940s, the sponge divers turned to other lines of work. Most became shrimpers and fishermen. When the city fathers decided to turn most of the sponge warehouses into tourist attractions, some of the Greeks opened shops and restaurants in the area, and many of those same businesses are still in operation today.
Fortunately for the sponge fishermen, the sponge industry enjoyed a rebound in the last few years. Sponges are still harvested near the city, and the Tarpon Springs sponge docks area is a popular tourist attraction. The narrow streets are lined with museums, galleries, gift shops, boutiques, bakeries, coffee shops, taverns, and specialty stores. Some of the items offered for sale include candles, gourmet foods and spices, seashells, flags, nautical décor, jewelry, cosmetics, apparel, goats’ milk soaps, and lots of sponges.
Dodecanese Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the Tarpon Springs sponge docks area, runs beside the Anclote River. Next to the river are boardwalks where visitors can view the sponge boats. There are benches all along the way for sitting and enjoying the atmosphere, and if you’re lucky, you might see a manatee or two.
You can book passage on a sponge boat or on a sightseeing cruise to learn more about the area. And if you’re into saltwater fishing, several guides will take you out deep-sea fishing. Maybe you’ll land a giant fish like the goliath grouper housed at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium! This is a great place for kids and adults to take a break from shopping and sightseeing, and it’s conveniently located near the end of the sponge docks.
Tarpon Springs Restaurants
Tarpon Springs is a “walking town.” In other words, you can park your car in a central location and see most of the attractions on foot. In the sweltering heat of summer, however, you’ll want to duck into an air-conditioned shop or store to cool off a bit. Of course, you’ll also want to enjoy a meal at one of the Tarpon Springs Restaurants.
There’s no shortage of Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs. You’ll find many eateries scattered throughout the area that serve authentic Greek cuisine. We had lunch at one of these restaurants, Mykonos, and we really enjoyed talking with the Greek owners. I felt like I was having lunch at my grandmother’s table instead of in a stranger’s restaurant. Mykonos is located right on Dodecanese Boulevard, the “main drag,” so it’s easy to find.
Other Tarpon Springs restaurants located on Dodecanese include Plaka Restaurant, Hellas Restaurant, Dimitri’s on the Water, Parthenonas, Yianni’s Café and Grill, Taste of Greece, Café Greko, and Mama’s Greek Cuisine. Other restaurants in Tarpon springs that serve Greek food include Toula’s Trailside Café, Mr. Souvlaki, Costas Restaurant, Zorbas Mezedes and Bistro, and Manolo’s Mediterranean Bistro.
If you’re not a fan of Greek food, don’t worry – there are plenty of restaurants in Tarpon Springs that serve other types of food, including fresh seafood, deli sandwiches, fresh bakery items, ice creams, burgers, hot dogs, coffee drinks, steaks, Thai food, Jamaican, Cuban, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and American cuisine. A few you might want to check out are Cody’s Roadhouse, Captain Jack’s Waterfront Grill, Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill, Tarpon Tavern, Ballyhoo Grill, Tarpon Springs Yacht Club, and Currents. For a fun, unusual, weird, and wonderful dining experience, check out Zante Café Neo on Safford Avenue!
Helpful tip: Get a free brochure from one of the Tarpon Springs merchants. It includes a handy map of the sponge docks area, along with great coupons for free stuff and for discounts to use in stores and restaurants. It’s a handy tool when you’re visiting Tarpon Springs!
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