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This Might Be The Best (Historic & Beachy) Small Town In Florida

TheTravel logo TheTravel 4/7/2023 Donna Tunney
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  • Greek Heritage Lives On In Tarpon Springs, Florida
  • What Are The Best Beaches In Tarpon Springs?
  • Where To Stay In Tarpon Springs, Florida (And Nearby)
  • Where Is The Best Place To Find Greek Cuisine In Tarpon Springs?

Tarpon Springs, population 25,000, is a small beach town with a significant history. Located on Florida’s west coast, just north of Clearwater, the city sits on the Gulf of Mexico alongside an underwater treasure trove of sea sponges.

Sea sponges put Tarpon Springs on the map in the early 1900s when two men launched what would soon become a major sea sponge industry. It was John K. Cheyney who operated the first sponge fishing boat, using hooks to collect the sponges from the ocean floor. But the hooks often damaged the sponges.

Enter Greek immigrant John Cocoris began working with Cheyney and introduced him to sponge diving. Divers would retrieve the valuable sea sponges by hand, limiting damage to the goods. Soon, Cocoris brought many divers from his homeland in the Greek Islands (undoubtedly one of the top tourist destinations in the world) to Tarpon Springs, and the business flourished.

Tarpon Springs’ natural sea sponges represented Florida’s biggest industry for 30 years, bigger than tourism or citrus fruits. And it continues to thrive today.

UPDATE: 2023/04/06 12:16 EST BY NOAH STAATS

Tarpon Springs Continues To Have Many Greek Influences

This post has been updated with beaches to visit in Tarpon Springs, Florida, gives deeper insight into the Greek influences throughout the city, and includes restaurants one may want to check out during their vacation in what might just be one of the most beautiful towns in Florida.

Related: This Is The Only Place In Florida Where You Can See Coastal Dune Lakes

Greek Heritage Lives On In Tarpon Springs, Florida

When John Cocoris summoned his compatriots to follow him to Tarpon Springs and work as sea sponge divers, the town grew up with them and for them. Numerous Greek restaurants, bars, and bakeries opened, along with Greek schools, churches, and villages, where the immigrants lived.

Dodecanese Boulevard is the main street in Tarpon Springs and leads to the town’s famous sponge docks, where the sea sponges are brought on land and prepared for sale. Many shops along the harbor sell the products, which are often used in the bath for exfoliation, among other uses.

  • Tarpon Springs, Florida, features many Greek establishments and history.
  • Tarpon Springs features famous sponge docks, where sea sponges are brought on land and prepared to sell.

The boulevard also is loaded with Greek restaurants, souvenir and gift shops, and other Greek-inspired stores and businesses.

A plaque at the fishing dock explains that the gulf waters north of Tampa Bay comprise one of the few areas of the world where the species of natural sponges suitable for commercial use are found. The town today is still known as the “Sponge Capital of the World” and is home to many residents of Greek descent.

What Are The Best Beaches In Tarpon Springs?

The Gulf Coast community of Tarpon Springs is considered one of Florida’s best beach towns on the Gulf Coast. The most popular is Fred Howard Beach, part of a waterfront park about 3 miles west of the town’s famous sponge docks. The beach is connected to the mainland by a mile-long causeway. It has picnic areas and restrooms, and a $5 parking fee. The downside to this beach is the seagrass bed found just offshore, which can be off-putting for some swimmers.

Sunset Beach is best known as one of the most scenic beaches on Florida's Gulf Coast for watching sunsets, but this 11-acre beach attracts sunbathers, swimmers, kayakers, and others. Its calm waters are ideal even for beginner kayakers (learn what to pack for kayaking before planning a trip!). Amenities at this beach, which is one of the most beautiful and underrated beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast, include a boat launch, picnic and playground areas, barbecue grills, restrooms, and a volleyball court.

The area of Tarpon Springs, known for having the best beaches in the region, is the Anclote Key Preserve State Park. Made up of four islands - Anclote Key, North Anclote Bar, South Anclote Bar, and Three Rooker Island - the park is accessible only by boat, and several private boat firms ferry visitors to and from the beaches. These companies also offer sightseeing boat tours, which provide a short visit to one of the islands.

Located about 3 miles off the coast, the 12,000-acre park is considered a prime birdwatching site, and visitors can explore a lighthouse built in 1887. There are no stores or commercial activities on the islands, so visitors should bring their own water and other provisions. Picnic areas have grills and tables. The park is open daily and is free to enter. Tent camping is allowed.

Tarpon Springs beaches are known for being some of the best coastal spots in Florida. Fred Howard Beach, although popular, does tend to have a seagrass bed found just offshore, which can be off-putting for visitors.

Where To Stay In Tarpon Springs, Florida (And Nearby)

Tarpon Springs has just a handful of hotels offering budget-friendly to moderate pricing, and nearby areas provide a few more choices.

Tarpon Shores Inn

  • Cost: $
  • Address: 40346 US Highway 19 North, Tarpon Springs
  • Amenities: Outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour desk, free parking

Quality Inn & Suites Tarpon Springs South

  • Cost: $
  • Address: 38724 US Highway 19 North, Tarpon Springs
  • Amenities: Outdoor pool, hot tub, complimentary breakfast, fitness center, meeting rooms

Fairfield Inn and Suites Holiday Tarpon Springs

  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 3060 US Highway 19, Holiday
  • Amenities: Outdoor pool, fitness center, business center, free Wi-Fi, and parking

Hampton Inn & Suites Tarpon Springs

  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 39284 U.S. Highway 19 North, Tarpon Springs
  • Amenities: Outdoor pool, gym, business center, on-site laundry facility

Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort

  • Cost: $$$
  • Address: 36750 US Highway 19 North, Palm Harbor
  • Amenities: Multiple pools, water slides, tennis courts, golf courses, free Wi-Fi, suites with balconies, full spa, five restaurants

Those wanting to spend less on their hotel in Tarpon Springs might consider the Tarpon Shores Inn or the Quality Inn & Suites Tarpon Springs South. These hotels are cheaper than the others in the area.

Where Is The Best Place To Find Greek Cuisine In Tarpon Springs?

  • Tarpon Springs has various Greek restaurants, including Katerina’s Taverna & Grill, Dimitri’s on the Water, Mama’s Greek Cuisine, and more.
  • Seafood is a specialty in this beachside town, so expect it on most menus.
  • Some Tarpon Springs restaurants also feature live music.

With its Greek heritage front and center, the town of Tarpon Springs lures visitors to several dining venues specializing in Greek cuisine. Here are three that get consistently good reviews and are moderately priced.

Stuffed grape leaves, Greek lasagna, and Greek-inspired desserts like baklava are found at Katerina’s Taverna & Grill at 619 North Pinellas Avenue. The cafe-style eatery also serves a wide range of seafood, including octopus, beer, and wine. It’s open daily except Monday.

Dimitri’s on the Water, at 690 Dodecanese Boulevard, specializes in classic Greek foods such as moussaka and gyros, plus a lot of seafood such as scallops, shrimp, and octopus. The waterfront venue has a steak menu offering rib-eye steaks and lamb roast. It’s open daily except Wednesday.

Related: 10 Small Beach Towns In Florida That Are Laid-Back & Low-Key

Live Greek music adds to the ambiance at Mama’s Greek Cuisine, located at 735 Dodecanese Boulevard. Offering indoor and outdoor seating, the venue’s dishes include spanokopita (spinach pie), keftedes (Greek meatballs), dolmadas (ground beef and rice in grape leaves), and many other choices. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner.

So, it's safe to say there will be plenty of excellent Greek food for those traveling to Tarpon Springs - undeniably one of the best small beach towns in Florida.


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