Tarpon Springs is a city in north Pinellas County known for its sponge diving industry and Greek population. The city started to boom in the 1890’s when divers from Greece came to harvest the plentiful sponges. To this day, Tarpon Springs still remains one of the most prosperous natural sponge markets in the world and is home to the largest Greek community in the United States. This coastal town is full of rich Greek culture and delicious food, plus plenty of gift shops and handmade goods.
Tarpon Springs makes a perfect day trip from anywhere in central Florida like Tampa or Orlando. The historic area is contained to just a few streets so it’s easily walkable within an afternoon.
Here are some of our favorite things to do on a day trip to Tarpon Springs:
1. Stroll Down Dodecanese Avenue
This street is the main tourist area in Tarpon Springs. This is where you’ll find the majority of Greek restaurants and shops, plus the actual sponge docks. There are a couple paid parking lots along Dodecanese Ave, and free and metered parking available on the nearby streets if you’re willing to walk a little farther. I’ve seen the parking lots range in price from $5-$10 for the full day.
2. Sample Authentic Greek Food
If you love Greek food, Tarpon Springs is a must visit! Mama’s Greek Cuisine and Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery are two great options. Both have lots of seating and menu choices with all your favorite Greek foods. Flaming cheese, feta spread, and Greek salad are my personal favorites! And don’t forget to pick up some pastries on your way out. Although both restaurants are big, be prepared for a possible wait on weekends. We’ve also heard great things about Rusty Bellies for their seafood and tiki bar.
3. Shop for Sponges and Handmade Goods
The main souvenir in Tarpon Springs is of course the sponges, but you’ll also find an abundance of handmade soaps, sauces and jellies, cigars, jewelry, shells and sundries at the gift shops. This is a great place to look for gifts or souvenirs.
4. Take a Boat Cruise
There are several different boat cruises offered from Tarpon Springs. You can board dolphin cruises, sunset cruises, and even partake in island excursions. Your guide will tell you all about the history of Tarpon Springs and about the nature and wildlife in the area. Most of the boats offer beverages (for a fee) and restrooms aboard. We strongly recommend making reservations in advance on weekends, as the boats can fill up quickly. Taking the boat was a nice way to spend the hottest part of the afternoon, plus we were able to stop and explore Anclote Key a bit. The two biggest companies are Odyssey Cruises and Spongeorama Criuselines.
5. Explore Anclote Key Preserve State Park
Anclote Key Preserve State Park is comprised of four islands and is only accessible by boat. Most of the sightseeing boat tours offer an excursion onto the island, but your time on the beach will be limited to usually about half an hour. At the key you’ll find pristine beaches, shells, nesting birds, and even a historic 1887 lighthouse. If you have your own boat transportation, you could easily spend hours roaming around the islands. Keep in mind there are no provisions on the key so bring your own water/supplies.
6. Watch Sponges Come Right Off the Boats
Dodecanese Avenue is right along the Anclote River, which means you’ll get to see the actual sponge docks where sponges are unloaded from the boats, fresh from the ocean. You’d be surprised – there’s no fancy equipment involved here. Workers literally unload the sponges by hand into a big pile on the sidewalk. It’s quite a sight!
7. Catch Live Entertainment
In a city as rich in culture as Tarpon Springs, there is plenty of unique entertainment. Belly dancing and live music are popular during the evening at many restaurants including Mama’s. You may also check out the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center for local productions and film festivals. Once per month the city also hosts a Night in the Islands event where you can dine outside and enjoy Greek dance lessons and live music.
8. Enjoy a Craft Beer at a Brewery
During your day of Greek food, sightseeing, and gift shopping, enjoy an ice cold craft beer from one of the several breweries. The closest brewery to Dodecanese Ave. is 5 Branches Brewing. Other options a short drive (or bike or even walk) away in Tarpon Springs include: Brighter Days Brewing Co., Silverking Brewing Co., Two Frogs Brewing Co., and Unrefined Brewing. For an option right in the main drag of Dodecanese Ave., try Anclote Brew which is a taphouse specializing in local beers.
9. Watch the Sunset from Fred Howard Park
Although Fred Howard Park is not within walking distance from the other activities, it’s so worth it to get in the car to see the gorgeous sunset over the gulf. It’s only about 3 miles away from the main Dodecanese Avenue in Tarpon Springs. It’s a lovely park with a beautiful beach and a boardwalk nature trail to explore. If you’re new to the area, just visiting, or haven’t seen a West Coast sunset yet, this park is a great opportunity.
The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.
This post was updated in April 2022. It was originally published in June 2019.