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A small community located 30 miles from Tampa and St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs is known as the ‘Sponge Capital of the World.’ At one time, Tarpon Springs sponges were a larger export than Florida oranges. At first, workers arrived from Key West and the Bahamas to hook the sponges underwater. In the early 1900s, sponge diving with a suit and breathing tube was introduced, bringing in divers from Greece.
As a result, Tarpon Springs still has the largest Greek American population in the United States and is one of the most beautiful towns in Florida. Even though the sponge industry has slowed since synthetic sponges became available in the mid 20th century, there is still plenty to do and see in Tarpon Springs.
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What Is It? Located 3 miles off Tarpon Springs’ coast, Anclote Key Preserve State Park is only accessible by ferry or a personal boat.
Why Do It? Home to 43 different types of birds, an undeveloped beach, an 1800’s lighthouse and lots of great shelling, visiting Anclote Key provides an experience similar to what early settlers saw. There is no fresh drinking water or places to purchase food or drinks on the island.
Good to Know: Be sure to bring a full cooler for whatever you’ll need for the day. And remember to leave only footprints; you’re required to take all trash off the island when you go.
What Is It? Once home to one of Tarpon Spring’s first developers and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Safford House Museum showcases Florida architecture from the late 1800s.
Why Do It? It contains period pieces, some of which belonged to owner Anson P.K. Stafford and his family.
Good to Know: A visit here allows you to see how a well-off family lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida during the 19th century.
What Is It? Located on Saint Joseph Sound, which leads into the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs offers access to many water activities.
Why Do It? The best way to get a lay of the water is to take a tour by boat. The waters off of Tarpon Springs are full of many animals. Did you know Tarpon Springs got its name from the abundance of tarpon that lived offshore?
Good to Know: In addition to fish, you might see dolphins, osprey, and maybe even manatees! There are also sunset cruises and nature cruises available.
What Is It? Even though the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs can seem slightly touristy, they’re a must-visit.
Why Do It? Located on Dodecanese Boulevard on the waters that lead out to the Gulf of Mexico, the Sponge Docks offer many sponge and souvenir shops. There are also restaurants and shops, along with a local aquarium.
Good to Know: The Sponge Docks are where you pick up any of the tour boats you’d like to take.
What Is It? Speaking of the Sponge Docks, you can’t miss the many Greek restaurants located there.
Why Do It? You’ll be able to try authentic Greek dishes like tyrokafteri (spicy peppers whipped with cheese), taramosalata (salted roe spread), pickled octopus, souvlaki (broiled meat served with tzatziki sauce in a pita) and lamb dishes.
Good to Know: Some restaurants provide Greek dancing and music on select nights.
What Is It? The local craft brewing scene in Florida has exploded over the past few years. Tarpon Springs is no different.
Why Do It? When you enter a brewery and chat with the owner and brewer, you get a distinct sense of the local atmosphere. Offering different beer types such as stouts, chocolate ales, barley beer, IPAs, pale ales and sours, beer lovers will have plenty of choices. Many craft brewers also offer seasonal specials and sell soft drinks, wine and water for those who aren’t beer fans.
Good to Know: Most of the breweries are located in downtown Tarpon and are close to the Pinellas Trail, a local biking and jogging trail. There is a craft brewery located on the Sponge Docks as well.
What Is It? Most people wouldn’t expect an outstanding contemporary art museum on the campus of a local college’s satellite campus. The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art changes that expectation.
Why Do It? Housed on the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College, Leepa-Rattner exhibits works from the 20th and 21st centuries, including works from artists from the Gulf Coast area. Opened in 2002, the museum has over 6,000 pieces in its permanent collection and is open to the public.
Good to Know: The original donated collection included Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Fernand Léger works, and items created by the museum’s namesakes.
What Is It? Named for Greece’s patron saint and protector of seafarers, St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox Cathedral was founded in 1907, and the current building was constructed in the 1940s.
Why Do It? A tall tower and domed tower entryway greet you from the outside, while the cathedral is full of stained glass, Byzantine icons and a stunning painted ceiling. St. Nicolas is a working church, and you can attend a service. The cathedral is also open during certain hours for visitors to tour the inside or use prayer facilities.
Good to Know: If you’re in town on January 6, don’t miss the largest celebration of Epiphany in the western hemisphere. Also known as Three Kings Day, the celebration welcomes tens of thousands of visitors who participate in a festival procession from St. Nicolas to Spring Bayou. There, an archbishop of the church blesses the waters and throws a large cross into the water. Teenage boys of Greek descent dive in and the first to bring the cross up is to have good luck for the next year. Afterward, the celebration continues back at St. Nicolas with food, live music and dancing.
What Is It? Facing Spring Bayou, the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum features exhibits about the local area.
Why Do It? The museum features a collection of local Indigenous People artifacts, and the history of the local Greek community’s dances, food and traditions. There is also a wing with murals by Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still that are replicas of the Florida history paintings he created for the Florida House of Representatives chambers in Tallahassee.
Good to Know: Be sure to look closely at Still’s paintings – there are many hidden additions. Don’t worry if you miss a few. The museum has a key located at each mural to help you out.