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. We recommend visiting to enjoy a stunning sunset on the beach. The vibrant orange, pink and red colors in the sky, set to a vista of palms trees is dramatically beautiful, making the beach appropriately named. It’s perfect for a romantic evening. Consider packing a picnic!
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 serve quality olive oil to dip your bread in like Dmitri’s on the Water.
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 bakery 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. Or try a lesser known sweet like Diples – a fried Greek pastry with honey and nuts. They also bake delicious Melomakarona (honey & spice Greek cookies), made with walnut, spices, orange & honey. Melomakarona are traditionally a Greek Christmas cookie.
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).
If you’ve never used Airbnb before, sign up here for free and receive up to $55 off your first stay! Be sure to book properties with consistently good reviews for the best experience. We stayed at Genka’s first floor place – but this listing is no longer available on Airbnb.
Hotel Options in and Around Tarpon Springs, Florida
Innisbrook Golf Resort in nearby Palm Harbor is an excellent choice to spend your vacation. The resort has outdoor pools with water slides, 11 tennis courts and 4 golf courses. There is also a full-service spa with massage service and sauna, as well as a fitness facility. Guests can choose between 5 on-site restaurants like Packard’s Steakhouse. A flat-screen cable TV and kitchenette are provided in all suites. Some suites have a fully equipped kitchen, balcony, and sofa bed.
Hampton Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is 3 miles from Tarpon Springs’ historical district. A gym and business center are available, along with on-site laundry facilities. Hampton Inn offers a reliably comfortable stay with plush beds and a good complimentary breakfast for a chain hotel.
Quality Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs has an outdoor pool, hot tub and fitness center. All guest rooms have a coffee maker, desk, hair dryer, cable TV, iron and ironing board. Some rooms have a microwave, refrigerator, sofa sleeper and balcony. Other amenities include a free breakfast, free wireless high-speed Internet, free daily newspaper and free phone calls. Quality Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is a short drive from the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, Clearwater Aquarium, Howard Park Beach, Caladesi Island State Park and Brighthouse Fields.
Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Tours
While you’re in the area on vacation, consider one of these great tours!
A 2 Hour Cruise Around Clearwater Beach with Optional Dining. Enjoy an afternoon on a narrated 2-hour sightseeing cruise along Tampa Bay and Clearwater’s beautiful inland waters. Aboard the lovely StarLite Majesty yacht, enjoy the open-air deck or select the climate-controlled indoor cabin if it’s too warm. This is a great opportunity to see dolphins in the Gulf! Tours start at just $17.52 with the opportunity to add lunch.
A St. Petersburg Historical Segway Tour is a fun way to get to know the town. Learn about the Sunshine City’s historic sites and Victorian homes as you loop around town. Tours are from $60 per person.
Take a Tampa History Cruise. Learn about Tampa’s history through live on-board commentary while you sail. Multiple departure times make it easy to fit into your itinerary. Light refreshments are provided. Tours start at $30.77.
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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