By Alex Kallimanis: Tarpon Springs, Florida, just 30 miles northwest of Tampa, has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any town in the United States. The area first saw a heavy wave of Greek immigrants in the early 1900’s, primarily from Dodecanese islands like Kalymnos. A wide variety of Greek restaurants, bakeries and good shopping draw many tourists to Tarpon Springs, which is famous for sponges. When we resided in Tampa, we visited Tarpon Springs regularly, and we recently returned with my father and some friends to celebrate his 90th birthday. Here are tips for planning a trip to Tarpon Springs, Florida!
Just outside Tarpon Springs, Sunset Beach is a wonderful place to soak up some sun and fresh seaside air. At the very least, visit for sunset. The amazing colors in the sky, set to a vista of palms trees is dramatically beautiful, making the beach appropriately named.
Where to Eat in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Tarpon Springs offers some of the best bang for buck eating on the coast of Florida. Highlights among the many restaurants include delicious traditional Greek dishes, fresh seafood and some wonderful patisseries. Try some Greek wine as the country has evolved to produce good wines beyond retsina and they’re well priced in the restaurants of Tarpon Springs. A popular appetizer to order around town is saganaki (halloumi sheep cheese set ablaze tableside). Here are some of the very best places to eat in Tarpon Springs:
Dmitri’s on the Water
We enjoyed Dmitri’s on the Water so much that we returned the next day for lunch. The food, prices, service and lovely waterfront location are all strong selling points. Traditionally, Greeks eat family style. So order dishes to share among your table. A couple of highlights here are their huge quality salads and octopus stifado (octopus cooked in tomato sauce with feta cheese). All their seafood is fresh and the whole fish is well priced. Their complimentary bread and olive oil dip (mixed with balsamic vinegar, garlic and spices) is excellent and sets the tone for a great meal ahead.
Hellas Restaurant and Bakery
Hellas Restaurant is one of the most popular Greek restaurants and bakeries in Tarpon Springs. Given its festive ambiance, we decided to give them another try with my father and friends. The food is good, but not the best in Tarpon Springs. They also don’t give nice olive oil to dip your bread in like Dmitri’s on the Water does. Hellas’ bakery is impressive though, with a wonderful variety of Greek, Italian and American desserts. I recommend passing on their restaurant and swinging by for a coffee and pastry at the barkey instead. Enjoy a Greek coffee or frappe there with a piece of baklava or key lime pie- two of the many dessert highlights that are a fusion between Greece and Florida.
The Limani is the place to go for a fast and delicious budget meal. While not a full-service restaurant, they do have tables on the water. They prepare an excellent Greek salad topped with delicious souvlaki style pork for under $10. Combined with the waterfront location, this is an excellent option for lunch in Tarpon Springs.
In the past, this small bakery at 520 Athens Street prepared one of the best kadaifi’s we’d ever eaten. This time, however, both their kadaifi and baklava fell short of Hellas Bakery’s, as the filo pastry wasn’t as crispy as it should be. Go here for spanakopita (spinach pie) or tiropita (cheese pie) however. Their spanakopita still rivals the best you’ll find in Greece. Fournos Bakery also bakes excellent bread if you want to make some sandwiches, or just dip it in high-quality olive oil. Grab a loaf of their village bread or Athens bread.
Where to Stay in Tarpon Springs
We rented a lovely 3 bedroom house off Airbnb for a couple nights. It was only a 15 walk from the house to Dodecanese Boulevard. And even closer to walk to some of the restaurants and shops in downtown Tarpon Springs, just a few blocks away. The house had a full sized fridge, washing machine and dryer and even an espresso machine in the kitchen. Beds were comfortable too and the front porch was really nice to sit on during the day and at night (when a cool breeze off the ocean could be felt).
The only downside was that the air conditioning vents were not working properly in the bedrooms. But we just turned the ceiling fan on and cranked down the thermostat and left the bedroom door open (the air conditioning worked well in the living room), and it was fine. So we can personally recommend staying at Genka’s first floor place, and if you’ve never used Airbnb before, sign up here for free and receive $40 off your first stay over $75!
Hotel Options in and Around Tarpon Springs, Florida
Innisbrook Golf Resort in nearby Palm Harbor is a good choice for luxury travelers. This is a great place for guys to hit the links and for ladies to relax at the spa.
Hampton Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is a quality option. Hampton Inns offer a reliably comfortable stay with a good breakfast
Quality Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is a good budget option. Rooms are comfortable for the money.
Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Tours
While you’re in the area on vacation, consider tours like a 2 Hour Cruise Around Clearwater Beach with Optional Dining starting at just $17.08 per person. A St. Petersburg Historical Segway Tour would be a fun way to get to know that town. Or perhaps a Tampa History Cruise for $29.99.
Tarpon Springs Boat Tours
Dodecanese Boulevard is a great area to unwind, packed with good restaurants, shops and several companies offering short boat tours. You can take a boat ride out to see dolphins, manatees and nearby islands for under $20, right from the docks along lovely Dodecanese Boulevard. Be aware that if you visit during the week when there aren’t so many tourists, you could see your sunset cruise canceled. The owner of Spongeorama Cruise Line informed us that they require a minimum of 20 people on their cruises otherwise they don’t run them. So instead of watching the sunset on the cruise, we drove to Sunset Beach instead, which was also beautiful.
Tarpon Springs Shopping
There’s a wide variety of good shopping options in Tarpon Springs, from kitsch Florida souvenirs to high-quality Greek made products like soaps and creams. The town was built on sponges and that’s still a big draw of Tarpon Springs today. Each time we visit Tarpon Springs we purchase some sponges to take home. If you want sponges to wash yourself with, pay a little extra for the wool sponges, which are softer.
Swing into Leather Outlet for great deals on jewelry (including emeralds from Colombia), along with beautiful leather wallets starting at $10 and leather bags. You can also stock up on Greek olive oil and other goodies from overseas for reasonable prices.
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is worth visiting even if you’re not Christian. It’s incredibly beautiful, featuring beautiful art and marble from Greece. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the sea, so many Greek churches are named after him.
Have questions on planning your Florida vacation? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need assistance! You may also want to read my articles on Great Day Trips from Tampa and Alternative Orlando Gems You Don’t Read About.
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