Seeking out special experiences does not necessarily mean venturing to far-off places. I recently explored my own town which happens to be a quaint tourist destination as well as my Florida home. So, while I am hoping to inspire others to take a look around them in their own spots, I’m also hoping to introduce people to Tarpon’s treasures!
Tarpon Springs is a community in the Tampa Bay Area deep-rooted in tradition. There is an overwhelming Greek culture that is embedded in Tarpon Springs. It is in fact a community that was cultivated by Greeks who began the town’s trademark business — sponge diving. This is where Tarpon Springs’ famous Sponge Docks come from! And it’s one of the cutest areas in Tampa to spend a few hours – pick out a sponge, take a boat tour, eat at one of the Greek restaurants, etc.
The Sponge Docks
The Sponge Docks are full of Greek culture, but the best part is the balance between community and tourism. It feels wholesome and tight-knit, not like a tourist attraction.
I love to shop there, but it can take some digging to find stores with great quality items. A lot of the main stores along the docks are great if you are on the hunt for a Tarpon Springs shirt, but if I’m being honest (which I always will be), most of the items are gimmicky. Although the merchandise is inexpensive, you probably won’t get any use out of it once you leave.
There are some amazing shops though for all different purposes though. My absolute favorite for sponges and soaps is Lori’s Soaps and Sponges. Every time my uncle visits us, he requests to come here! The store has amazing selection without being overwhelming in terms of sponge shopping. When you come to the Sponge Docks, you obviously need a sponge! I use mine as a shower loofa. The soaps are also fantastic – their scent, their creaminess and their price! Almost always, they are sold as 3 for $12 or sometimes even 4 for $12.
My other favorite shop is Five Fish. It’s at the front of a larger complex that has many shops if you have the patience to explore the depths of it! Five Fish has some great options for jewelry, purses, and little momentos that are stylish if you would rather avoid the touristy things.
As for eateries, the Greek culture is embedded in the food. Most famous is Hella’s restaurant and bakery if you’re really looking for a Greek experience. I love the chocolate cake in the bakery with a little mouse on it! No worries if you are not into Greek food because there is a great waterfront restaurant at the very end of the Docks – Rusty Bellies! It serves a variety of options and also has beautiful views of the Anclote River.
And between the Sponge Docks and Downtown Tarpon is another hidden gem eatery – Q Dogs! If you like hot dogs, you will love this place! It’s super small but has super great food including some daring flavors on hot dogs.
Downtown Tarpon Springs is typically quiet most days. But there are fun events held monthly and even on those quiet days, it is worth the relaxing stroll.
Shopping is my favorite thing to do here because there are many antique stores! There also several salvage places, like Unique Finds with interesting and beautiful vintage pieces! My favorite store to visit is The Mad Hatter. It has books, clothes and cute trinkets that make perfect gifts!
Downtown is in a phase of change. Stores are closing but new things are coming about! If you are looking to eat, Back Draughts is cozy and serves delicious pizza.
My last recommendation for what you should see if you ever visit Tarpon Springs is the bayou. I recommend it even more if you are here in the winter months because you may get a chance to see my favorite animals – manatees! Manatees come to the bayou in the winter because of its warmer water. Almost every day in November after my mom would pick me up from school in my middle school years, we would stop at the bayou since it was on our way home and see if we were lucky enough to spot their noses coming to the surface. And if you happen to be here during Christmas, come experience a beautiful tradition on Christmas Eve called Light Up the Bayou. You won’t regret it.
I hope you enjoyed learning about a few of the beautiful places that make up where I live, but more importantly I hope it inspired you to put more value onto the traditions of your town and to spend time exploring it! You never know what little things you can pick up on that will make where you live all the more special to you!