Tarpon Springs, Florida - Tampa Bay Day Trip Destination
Spring Bayou - Tarpon Springs
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.
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.
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
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.
Map of Sponge Dock Restaurants
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!
Additional Tarpon Springs Resources
- Tarpon Springs Florida|Things to do|Sponge Docks|Festivals|Arts & Crafts|History|Greek Culture
Your One Stop Guide to Tarpon Springs Florida. Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs Greek restaurants, Jewelry, Tampa Bay Restaurants.
- The Sponge Exchange
The Sponge Exchange - The Original Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
- Inn Tarpon Springs * Bed and Breakfast Inn Tarpon Springs Florida
Inn Tarpon Springs - Large Comfortable Inn in Tarpon Springs offers rich Greek history.
- Welcome to Tarpon Springs!
The official Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce site. Beautiful and informative.
- Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society
Tarpon Springs, Florida has an interesting and culturally rich past that helps to draw visitors each year.
- Tarpon Springs Aquarium
Tarpon Springs Aquarium - A spectacular living reef, once the domain of divers only, may now be experienced by all - Live coral sponges sharks and fish come together to form this truly unique undersea oasis Don't miss Florida's most exciting Marine a