Tampa Bay is full of cool areas to explore, but one hidden gem that many don’t know about is Tarpon Springs. This town is better known as “Florida’s Little Greece”, where you can enjoy Mediterranean cuisine and architecture right along the sponge docks. I love visiting for a boat tour and some baklava when I could use an escape from the touristy beaches
This area is just north of Clearwater and has plenty of things to do and see, no matter your age or budget. In this blog post, I will lay out all my favorite experiences and restaurants here, as well as an itinerary for visiting. With so much history and culture, it’s worth taking a day trip from Tampa to Tarpon Springs.
Things to Do in Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs was established in the early 1900s when Greek immigrants discovered the plentiful sea sponges in this area. It is still the Sponge Capitol of the world, with most sea sponges being harvested from here. Many of the residents are of Greek descent and honor their heritage by preserving the history and culture of the area. In addition to sponging, this has now become an attraction for visitors to learn about this unique part of Florida. Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a day here.
Take a Dolphin Sighting Boat Cruise
For an educational and entertaining boat ride, there are a variety of boat tours offered out of Tarpon Springs. Most are about two hours long and you get to see dolphins, learn about the history of Tarpon Springs, and enjoy being on the water!
Tours with Island Adventure Dolphin Cruise are offered daily and run every two hours from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased online or in person. You are likely to see dolphins and also stop at Anclote Island for shelling. You can even take your dog on the tour too!
Walk around Dodecanese Avenue
The main area to visit in Tarpon Springs is Dodecanese Avenue. This is where you will find all sorts of Greek restaurants, shops, and more. You can usually find parking along the main road for an hourly rate and then spend some time taking a walk around. There are plenty of cool photo-ops along the streets and often some dolphins in the harbor.
I will share all my favorite restaurants further into the post, but it’s hard to go wrong with any local spots here. I like to grab some baklava and a coffee and then watch the boats unload their sponges. I also enjoy hanging out for a beer at the Anclote Brewery. Whatever you do, make sure to buy an authentic sponge while you are here!
Learn about the Sponge Docks
You can learn about a lot about the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks just by reading the signs around town or taking a boat tour. However, for more in-depth information, the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum is just a mile away from Dodecanese Avenue. It costs $5 to enter and is open 10 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday.
It’s a small museum but worth a look around, especially if you want to get out of the heat or rain. Here, you can see archeological artifacts from excavations as well as historic diving tools. There is even a fifteen-minute video about the local sponge industry. With historical and ecological exhibits, there is something for young and old here.
Visit the Tarpon Springs Aquarium and Animal Sanctuary
If you are visiting Tarpon Springs with kids, I highly recommend taking a stop at the Aquarium and Animal Sanctuary. Though all ages will enjoy it, it will especially break up the day for families. You can see sharks, stingrays, alligators, turtles, and more, as well as exciting shows.
Both the Scuba Diving and Alligator feeding shows are big hits and occur every other hour. The ray and tidal touch tank is another worthwhile attraction. You can even hold a snake if you are daring enough! Though smaller than the nearby museums of Clearwater and Tampa, it makes for a fun couple of hours.
Relax at Fred Howard Park
Though the beaches of Clearwater and St. Pete Beach are the best in the area, Tarpon Springs does offer a couple of beach parks to enjoy. Fred Howard Park is the best and is known for having amazing sunsets. There is a small sandy beach area in addition to a playground and picnic area.
The coolest thing about this beach is there is a one-mile causeway from the beach to the park. If you are in the mood for a stroll, this is a great place to take one, and you will probably see some dolphins. Other things to do at this park include kayaking, fishing, and cycling.
How to Get to Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs is easily accessible from Clearwater, Tampa, and St. Petersburg. You will need a car to visit as there is not much public transportation here. If you are coming from the beaches, take Route 19 north. From Downtown Tampa, take 589 North and it is about a forty-five-minute drive.
I usually set my GPS to The Sponge Factory (15 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689) and park in one of the lots near here. There is usually a $5 or so parking fee. Lunchtime on weekends is the busiest time to visit Tarpon Springs, so try and come before or after that so you can have an easier time finding parking.
Day at Tarpon Springs Itinerary
If you are planning to spend a day at Tarpon Springs like we often do, this is the itinerary I recommend following. Once you park on Dodecanese Blvd, you can pretty much walk to most attractions. You can modify any way you like, but this is the optimal schedule I have found.
- 9:30 AM – Arrive at Tarpon Springs, park and get coffee or a snack
- Get baklava or fresh bread at Fournos Bakery
- Walk around and see the landmarks
- 10:15 AM – Head to Island Adventure DolphinCruises for a two-hour cruise to Anclote Island
- 12:30 PM – Go to Hellas for lunch
- Alternatively, if the wait is too long, check out Mr. Souviaki or Mama’s Greek Cuisine.
- 1:30 PM – Drive to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium
- 3:00 PM – Get a drink at Anclote Brew, 5 Branches Brewing, or Tarpon Springs Castle Winery
- Alternatively, walk the beach at Fred Howard Park (If you can stay for the sunset, the views are amazing!)
- 5:00 PM – Stop in Downtown Dunedin for shopping and dinner
Where to Eat in Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs has a wide variety of delicious and authentic Greek restaurants. Hellas is the most popular spot and is known for being one of the largest producers of baklava in the country. I am OBSESSED with their red pepper feta dip and everything else I have ordered here always comes out fantastic. The wait for lunch can usually be over an hour on weekends, so make sure to put your name in early!
However, this is not the only local Greek restaurant and it is worth branching out to try other options as well. Yianni’s Seafood and Greek Cuisine is the second most popular and specializes in chargrilled octopus. Mykonos, Mama’s Greek Cuisine, and Mr. Souviaki are also excellent options with all the Greek favorites like gyros, spanakopita, and saganaki (aka flaming cheese!)
If you are not in the mood for Greek cuisine, there are a few other options around Dodecanese as well. Bayou Bistro is great for waterfront dining and seafood, whereas Anclote Brew has pub food and craft beer. If you just want a snack, there are tons of bakeries lining the streets, all offering unique pastries and desserts. Fournos is where I stop for baklava, as it is so hard to resist here!
Tarpon Springs Frequently Asked Questions:
For those interested in visiting Tarpon Springs, I have compiled the most frequently asked questions and answered them here. All answers were accurate as of November 2022.
- Is Tarpon Springs a freshwater spring?
- No, it is a series of bayous that were named Tarpon Springs because of the way Tarpon “spring” out of the water
- Can you swim in Tarpon Springs?
- Since it’s not a freshwater spring, there is not a typical swimming area. However, there are a couple of beaches within the town of Tarpon Springs.
- Is Tarpon Springs a beach town?
- Though it does have a beach, it is small and man-made. Head to Clearwater or St. Pete Beach if a beach town is what you are looking for.
- What is Tarpon Springs known for?
- Tarpon Springs is known for being home to an abundance of sea sponges. Greek immigrants moved here in the early 1900s and started a thriving sponge-diving community.
- When is the best time to visit Tarpon Springs?
- For low crowds, I recommend visiting weekdays when school is in session. However, if you want hot weather for the beach, visit in the summer. Conversely, October through April is perfect weather for walking around and less of a chance of thunderstorms.
- Are sponges still harvested a Tarpon Springs?
- Yes, however, most people use synthetic sponges now. If you are looking for a natural sea sponge, you can get one here that was harvested right from the water.
Know Before You Go: Tarpon Springs
I hope this blog post enticed you to visit Tarpon Springs! There are activities for everyone from boating to shopping and it’s a wonderful way to experience Florida history. Below, I have included a few other things to keep in mind when visiting.
- Though Tarpon Springs is an entire town in Tampa Bay, this article mainly refers to the Little Greek area around Dodecanese Boulevard.
- Tarpon Springs started as a pioneer settlement in 1875. Greek immigrants started arriving in the 1800s and in 1905, sponge diving started here.
- The sponge industry is still in action here, even though most homes have artificial sponges.
- Visitors are allowed to bring their dogs on boat tours and in many shops but will be required to dine outside.
- Parking in public lots ranges from $3 to $15 and can be hard to find on busy days. Hellas will validate parking for the lot along Hope Street.
- Public restrooms are located on Dodecanese across from Hellas. Many restaurants have facilities to use as well.
- To experience Greek festivities, Greek Independence Day, and the summer Opa! Palooza are fun, annual events.
Have you been to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks? Let me know what you enjoyed there if you have!