The main street in Tarpon Springs Florida is aptly named Dodecanese Boulevard, which refers to the Greek Islands of Greece. Now imagine that each storefront on Dodecanses is its own island sharing its uniqueness of individuality with its community whether it is a restaurant, bakery, sponge shop, jewelry store, art gallery, or one of the many other shopping/eating establishments to be found here.
For an average of five dollars, you can obtain all-day parking right on Dodecanese Boulevard and stroll, shop, eat, and drink all day along a several block stretch. What a bargain in itself! Dodecanese Boulevard is Tarpon Springs Florida main artery and separates the sponge docks and marinas on the Anclote river from the shops and the eateries on the other side. it is a very picturesque small town with lots of charm and history.
Here's a little background information on this amazing little town as was obtained from the Tarpon Springs Florida Chamber of Commerce website: Named US Today's"2018 Best Historical Small Town in America" with its beginnings in 1890 as a commercial sponge industry. In the early 1900s, a large contingent of sponge divers from Greece immigrated to Tarpon Springs Florida to settle and work in the sponge industry, bringing with them their way of life, culture, and families.
My personal takeaway from my day trip to Tarpon Springs Florida and great reasons for everyone to visit are:
The uniqueness of the town with its Greek vibes and culture within Florida.
The friendliness of the shopkeepers along Dodecanese Boulevard who graciously offer to share knowledge of their crafts and creations.
To understand the sponge industry and the various uses today for natural sponges.
The historical significance of Tarpon Springs Florida which brought the Greek culture to this area of the state.
To immerse myself/yourself with fantastic samplings of authentic greek food and pastry confections.
To shop and explore this part of the mid-state central-west coastline.
Things To Do In Tarpon Springs Florida
Exploring the Town and History
The most popular things to do in Tarpon Springs Florida are strolling, shopping and eating. The town is so picturesque and unusual along the waterfront, that you really just want to slow down, stop and take in the views.
The buildings along Dodecanese Blvd. are reminiscent of what I imagine to be found in Greece: white buildings, columns, plazas, water fountains, palm trees, peaceful water views, and well, you get the picture. There are places to explore and benches for relaxing. Grab a coffee, chilled beverage, or a pastry and explore not only Dodecanese Blvd., but the other streets of Tarpon Springs Florida as well.
There are several historical buildings worth seeing, such as the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Catherdral, St. Michael's Shrine, the restored 1883 Safford House Museum, and The Heritage Museum, formerly a library that now houses a permanent interactive exhibit entitled "The Greek Community of Tarpon Springs", full of the town's rich history.
If you are more adventurous and want to indulge in some water activities, check out Odyssey Cruises for a 1.5 - 2 hour narrated cruise down the Anclote River to the Gulf of Mexico to spot sea life, waterfowl or just view the magnificent coastline. Or an optional tour will drop you off at the Anclote State Preserve to explore on your own, viewing the historic lighthouse, swimming or shelling.
Check out the Tarpon Springs Dolphin Cruise or the St. Nicholas Boat Line as other informative boat cruise options. Describing and sometimes demonstrating the sponge diving process and history is a specialty provided by the family-owned and operated St. Nicholas Boat Line.
If you prefer kayaking on your own or on a guided tour, check out River Wild Kayaking company specializing in ECO natural tours on and around the Anclote River.
Exploring Nearby Parks
Free parks or minimal pay parks abound in the area of Tarpon Springs Florida. Be sure to check out Sunset Beach Park for sunset viewing, swimming, picnicking or boating. Craig Park is great for strolling along the Bayou or launching your personal boat or kayak.
Fred Howard Park has a white sandy beach perfect for swimming, sunbathing and sunset viewing. Also provided are picnic shelters, restrooms and playgrounds. A.L. Anderson Park has a wooded and hilly location with lovely bay and lake vistas. Hike, picnic, walk your dog, fish or boat at this location.
Oh my, the food, glorious food found here in Tarpon Springs Florida! Embrace the town's culture and seek out authentic Greek restaurants, or there are many other fares and cuisines to choose from, such as American (Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill or Tarpon Tavern), Italian (The Bistro), or Caribbean (Tarpon Turtle Grill & Marina) to name a few.
My top picks (no particular order) for authentic Greek cuisine come from the following long-term establishments. There are so many more than these that are listed, so do your own research for alternate menu, location and budget options:
Hellas Restaurant and Bakery has been in operation since 1970, and it is obvious that they are a community favorite based on the restaurant and bakery wait lines (so do expect a wait during popular dining times but the wait is worth it!)
Mykonos advertises serving up classic Greek dishes just like Yiayia's kitchen!
Mr. Souvlaki features traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine and makes special mention of their Greek Chow Mein.
Yianni's is a newer Greek restaurant located at the Sponge Docks and offer both inside and pet-friendly outside dining. Come and enjoy live music on most Saturdays and Sundays.
Fresh and local seafood can be found at almost all of these restaurants listed above, as well as most others in Tarpon Springs Florida.
Shopping in Tarpon Springs Florida is absolutely bountiful and plentiful. There are so many unique and specialty shops here where you can buy things you never knew you wanted or needed!
Sponges in various forms and sizes are of course found here in many of the stores. Spongearama Sponge Factory store advertises as having the largest selection of natural harvested sponges, as well as a large selection of bath and beauty products.
Check out Jay's Treasures Antique Shop and Antonia's Boutique & Gifts has a unique collection of Greek-themed items for yourself and as gifts for the friends and family you left behind. Vegetable Ivory was my personal favorite store. The owner/artist was very informative regarding the one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and gifts crafted from Tagua seeds which are found in the tropical rainforests.
Other unique stores sell olive oils, leather goods, handcrafted soaps, cigars, spices and teas, shoes, clothing, art and a wide assortment of tourist gifts. It has been noted that the shopping prices seem very reasonable here in Tarpon Springs Florida. There is definitely something here for the entire family.
There is so much to see and do in Tarpon Springs Florida that you may want to stay over a night or two. Options closest to downtown Tarpon Springs Florida include
Come and visit this unique and charming, family-friendly town of Tarpon Springs Florida which is conveniently located along the Gulf Coast off the major north/south US 19 Highway. Tampa is approximately 30 miles south and Orlando is within a two-hour drive east of Tarpon Springs Florida.
Interesting Fact: If you happen to be in town at high tide when a full moon is anticipated, you can expect to see the Anclote River flood a section of Dodecanese Blvd. The efficient local police will kindly block the affected area for the few hours during high tide, so be prepared to drive around the back streets for your parking needs.
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Marilyn Tabanelli is a Florida Family Travel Guide contributing writer. She enjoys photography and writing about her travel adventures throughout the country.