If you’re looking for a get away from Florida without leaving the state, then Tarpon Springs is the city for you. Known for the Greek culture, sponges and boats, Tarpon Springs is hailed as the “Sponge Capital of the World.”
This beautiful city draws people in with its pleasant climate, which is great for boating, fishing, swimming, golf and other activities. If you’re more into shopping or museums, there are plenty of things to do in Tarpon Springs.
What is Tarpon Springs Famous For?
The Sponge Capital of the World is famous for its sponges, but there not just any sponges. In 1873, fishermen from Key West accidentally discovered the sponge beds. This led to John Cheyney, a local businessman to open the Anclote River and Rock Island Sponge Company in 1890. Eventually, the sponge business shifted from Key West to Tarpon Springs and by 1900, the city was considered the largest sponge port in the United States.
However, it was the Greek immigrants who expanded and refined sponging in Tarpon Springs. Not only is Tarpon Springs famous for the world’s finest sponges, but it is also a city well known for the Greek culture that exists in Tarpon Springs.
In fact, Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans living there than any other city.
Where is Tarpon Springs, FL Located?
A city in Pinellas County, Florida, Tarpon Springs is located between Spring Hill and St. Petersburg. It is also on the left of Tampa and along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. The Sponge Capital of the World is 45 minutes away from St. Petersburg and about 50 minutes away from Tampa.
Nearest Major Airport: St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport
County for Tarpon Springs, FL: Pinellas County
Population: About 25,569
Things to do in Tarpon Springs
There are plenty of things to do in Tarpon Springs. Whether you are looking for Greek Cuisine, Museums, Boat Tours and so forth, Tarpon Springs has a variety of things to do.
The Sponge Docks
If you’re looking for a variety of Greek restaurants, this is the spot to look for them. You will also find boat tours and a bunch of different shops with sponges.
Restaurants & Bakeries
I was overwhelmed with the number of restaurants and bakeries located in the Sponge Docks. There’s so many to choose from, and though many are Greek restaurants, there are a few that step away from the Greek Cuisine. Below is a list of some of the restaurants I got to try and see.
Hellas Restaurant & Bakery
One of the first restaurants I saw is the Hellas Restaurant & Bakery. This was mostly due to the warrior mounted on the top of the restaurant’s roof, which drew my attention to the restaurant. During my time at the docks, I noticed many visitors at the restaurant and the bakery was also quite packed. Here you’ll find authentic Greek food such as Saganaki, Spanikopita, Gyro and much more.
Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill
If you’re looking for seafood, Rusty Bellies is a good option. This riverfront seafood joint has a tiki bar on the water and also offers live music. If you’re not into seafood, but want the view, they also have other choices such as burgers, chicken and steak options and pasta.
Taste of Greece
Having heard about this place before, I stopped in to buy some Greek desserts. Taste of Greece is a bakery with some delicious desserts, small bites and coffee. Here I bought the Baklava and the Kataifi, which reminded me of my time in Greece. They also have small bites such as Spanakopita.
Spanakopita – a small pie made with flaky phyllo dough filled with Spinach and feta and/or other cheese.
Baklava – a layered filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and honey.
Kataifi – a shredded phyllo pastry with a mixture of nuts, scented with cinnamon and cloves and soaked in lemon scented syrup.
Compared to the other restaurants, The Limani is inexpensive. If you’re on a budget, you may want to check this spot out. It also has a great view, and the menu is quite delicious. Some of the things you’ll find here are Kebabs, Pitas and Burgers.
If you’re looking for a good shop, then you’ll find them all around the sponge docks. Some may be pricier than others, but for the most part you’ll find Sponges in every shop, which make great souvenir gifts.
Greek Island Imports
If you’re looking for a variety of Greek gifts, this is the spot to get them. Not only do they have the evil eye, but they also have sponges, soaps and a bunch of other quirky gifts. I bought two small silk sponges, which are perfect for washing your face and removing makeup, and I also bought soap, which is handmade in Tarpon Spring.
Dolphin Gift Shop
Unlike some of the shops, the Dolphin Gift Shop sticks out and can easily attract customers into their shop. This gift shop has a variety of sponges and there is also some artwork available for purchase.
Getaguru Soap Co.
This beautiful pink shop sells wonderful handmade soap. They also have a few other things, but the main item in the shop is soap.
The Sponge Exchange Shopping Village
This village has plenty of shops to go into. Walking around, I noticed shops selling clothes, more sponges, shoes and oils. There’s a variety and definitely a spot to check out for your shopping needs.
The Sponge Factory
If you’re looking for a variety of sponges, this is the place to check out. This gift shop also has soap, but the different types of sponges is what draws people in. From wool sponges to silk sponges, this gift shop has them all.
Spongeorama Sponge Factory
Although Spongeorama sells sponged, soaps and many other souvenirs, they also offer a free exhibit/movie for people to check out.
Spongeorama Cruise Lines
Part of the Spongeorama Sponge Factory, the Cruise Lines takes visitors down the Anclote River to the Gulf of Mexico. Here you’ll be able to see dolphins, manatees and some historical sites.
One of the newest and largest sightseeing boats in Tarpon Springs, The Odyssey II offers dolphin adventure and Island Sighting, and Dolphin Adventure and Nature Cruise. Odyssey also offers shelling only trips and river cruise trips.
If you go on a river cruise trip on Saturday or Sunday between 12pm-4pm, this 1hour trip is only $10.99.
When arriving to the sponge docks, it may be a little overwhelming to find parking. Especially, when you see so many signs pointing to parking and then a few different prices. As someone who does not like to pay for parking, here are a few that are completely free.
- Spongeorama Sponge Factory has free parking behind Yianni’s Restaurant
- There’s limited free parking around the Sponge Exchange
- If you drive towards the end of main street, there’s free parking there.
- If you’re going for the restaurants, some of them with their own parking lot do offer free parking.
A majority of the ones you pay for are about $5, which isn’t bad compared to other cities with $20 parking.
Historic Downtown Tarpon Springs
Aside from the Sponge Docks, The Historic Downtown Tarpon Springs also has a lot to offer. The downtown has some great stores, restaurants as well as some museums and the cathedral.
Places to see
Craig Park & War Memorial
This is located right by the Spring Bayou near the Heritage Museum
Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum
Located in Craig Park overlooking the Spring Bayou, the Heritage Museum explores the history and culture of the Greek community.
The Spring Bayou is the winter home to many manatees. It is also where the famous annual Greek Epiphany Celebration happens on January 6th.
Safford House Museum
Named after Anson P.K. Safford, this museum operates as a late 19th-century Victorian historic house museum.
Hours: The Safford House is open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 11 AM to 3 PM
Cost: Adult admission is $5 and admission for residents $3
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Not only is this church beautiful on the outside, but it’s also beautiful on the inside. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral has a domed basilica architecture and iconography adorning the walls and windows.
If you like trains, then you may want to check out the Depot Museum, which educates visitors on all things related to the railroads.
If you’re looking for a cool store to go into, this is it! They have some awesome Star Wars finds as well as some vintage toys. It’s a great shop to go into.
One Amazing Find
Looking for unique items for your home? Then check One Amazing Find, which has all things for your home, especially furniture.
Erika’s Sweet Haus
A delightful shop with all sorts of cinnamon glazed roasted nuts. They also have coffee drinks and fudge.
Ratza Chocolate sells handcrafted chocolate as well as raw cacao beans, which would make great gifts for anyone you may be shopping for.
Food & Drinks
Get your European fix with Copenhagen Cafe. They have breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as gelato.
Looking for a place to relax with some drinks? This wine bar is just the place you need.
Aside from having great reviews, the Bayou Cafe has homestyle cooking at reasonable prices.
Orange Cycle Creamery
An ice cream shop that uses fresh ingredients and distinctive recipes made from scratch. They have about 24 flavors and some are also dairy free.
Two Frogs Brewing Company
A family-owned company, they brew everything on tap. The brewery opened its doors in 2017 and continues to grow.
Parking is easier to find at the Historic Downtown. You can find free city parking near the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center. There’s also free street parking on Court Street passing the cultural center.
Other Things to Do
If you’ve done everything listed above and need more to do, then keep reading because there are a few more things you can do.
Tarpon Springs Aquarium
The aquarium offers shows and hands-on experiences. Some of these hands-on experiences consists of holding and feeding the animals. The aquarium has been family owned and operated since the 1990’s.
Leepa Rattner Museum of Art
A modern and contemporary art museum located in the campus of St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs. The admission to the museum is free.
A hidden, small beach perfect for picnics, watching spectacular sunsets and boats. This beach is equipped with free parking, restrooms, boat launch, outdoor showers and covered picnic areas.
There is plenty to do in Tarpon Springs, and though there’s a lot on this list, there’s still plenty of undiscovered gems around the area.