Local Tips For Visiting Tarpon Springs, Florida

By Alex Kallimanis: Just 30 miles northwest of Tampa, Tarpon Springs has the largest per capita Greek American population of any town in the USA. Around 25% of some 29,000 Tarpon residents are of Greek descent. An abundance of excellent Greek restaurants, bakeries, fresh seafood, craft breweries, boutique shops and festivals makes Tarpon Springs a popular tourist draw – especially on weekends. The Sponge Docks are also a great place to take a boat tour to nearby Anclote Key, for fishing, dolphin watching, or a small boat sunset cruise. This unique Florida Gulf Coast town offers a slice of the Mediterranean along Dodecanese Boulevard and Athens Street.

Alex and Bell posing behind the Sponge Factory display in Tarpon Springs

When we resided in Tampa, we visited Tarpon Springs regularly. While living in Washington, DC, we returned with my father and some good friends to celebrate his 90th birthday. We loved the area so much, we recently relocated here when we bought a house in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Here are local tips for visiting Tarpon Springs, that goes beyond just the tourist spots. 

Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and the Sponge Industry

Tarpon Springs is considered the Sponge Capital of the World. In the early 1900’s, around 500 Greek sponge divers immigrated primarily from the Dodecanese Islands and helped grow the industry. Prior to the 1940’s, the sponge industry brought in even more money than tourism to the state of Florida!

A man standing in the middle of sponges on the Sponge docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Sponges galore on the Tarpon Springs, Florida Sponge Docks

To harvest sponges, divers take 20 day trips into the Gulf of Mexico to sustainability hand cut sponges from the bottom of the sea. They leave a small sliver so the sponges grow back. I love using a natural sea wool sponge in the shower. It’s such a natural and soft way to clean yourself! While on the Sponge Docks along Dodecanese Boulevard, you may see a boat that has just returned with a huge nets of various sponges.

There are a lot of shops to purchase a variety of natural sea sponges. The Sponge Factory offers some of the best prices on natural sea wool sponges. They also sell a variety of other quality products from handmade soaps to Greek hand creams featuring olive oil and chamomile. There is a fun display out front that includes a painting of an original sponge diving suit that you can get photos with. You can learn more about the sponge industry on a boat tour or by watching one of the videos in the sponge shops.

Tarpon Springs Restaurants

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 several wonderful patisseries and bakeries. Enjoy Greek wine as the country produces quality 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:

Katerina’s Taverna and Grill

Just off the tourist trail of Tarpon Springs famous Sponge Docks, the food at Katerina’s Taverna and Grill is fantastic. Their village salads, piled with excellent feta and Greek croutons remind us of the most delicious salads we’ve enjoyed on islands like Crete and Naxos. Many of the dishes at Katerina’s are very authentically Greek. There are small touches here that are not frequently found outside Greece. One of them is the char-grilled bread with a hint of lemon, served with pork souvlaki. Their gyro meat on a spit is succulent pork slices, instead of the mystery beef and lamb combination found in some Greek restaurants.

Our friends enjoying Saganaki, flaming Greek cheese at Katerina’s Taverna & Grill in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Hunger is quickly appeased at Katerina’s because like many Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs, they serve white and wheat sliced bread shortly after you sit down. to cater to American tastes, they do serve the bread with butter instead of extra virgin olive oil. But you can request olive oil if you prefer that, like we do. They will happily oblige with a delicious plate of olive oil and spices. Their warm staff are generous and offer more complimentary bread without you having to ask!

Bayou Bistro

Bayou Bistro is a wonderful restaurant and bar for delicious seafood in a completely unpretentious environment. It’s located right on the water and has a quintessential laid-back Florida vibe to it. We highly recommend ordering off their specials menu. We’ve enjoyed the most delish scallops and ahi tuna at Bayou Bistro. This is also a good spot to try some local beers, as they feature around 3 local brews on tap.

Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill

Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill is the most popular seafood restaurant in Tarpon Springs. They have an extensive menu including a variety of fresh seafood, pastas and even sushi Thursday – Saturday after 4pm. The wait, especially on weekends, is usually around 90 minutes. And unfortunately, they don’t take reservations. A good strategy is to arrive before you’re hungry to put your name on the waitlist. Then enjoy drinks at their bar or browse the shops along the Sponge Docks.

Yiannis

two photos, one of plate of potatoes and lamb with a man playing guitar in the background, the other of octopus tentacles grilled on a plate with a slice of lemon
Delicious char-grilled octopus and lamb over live Greek music at Yiannis in Tarpon Springs

Yiannis is a great choice for dishes like delicious char-grilled octopus expertly prepared with extra virgin olive oil, spices and lemon. Their lamb dishes, souvlaki and spanakopita (spinach pie) are also fantastic. They typically feature live music on weekends including local Greek musicians like Demetrios. Weekends are the best time to visit Yiannis. They don’t offer as charming a view of the water like nearby Dmitris on the Water. But their excellent food makes up for that.

Hellas Restaurant and Bakery

Saganaki, flaming Greek halloumi cheese at Hellas in Tarpon Springs
Saganaki, flaming Greek halloumi cheese at Hellas Restaurant in Tarpon Springs.

Hellas Restaurant is one of the most popular Greek restaurants and bakeries in Tarpon Springs. On weekends, the line is often out the door. The food is good, but not the best in Tarpon Springs. They also don’t serve quality extra virgin olive oil to dip your bread in like some of the other nearby Greek restaurants.

a delicious frappe au la mode at Hellas Bakery, with a huge selection of desserts
Hellas Bakery’s delicious frappe au la mode – blended coffee and ice cream.

Hellas’ bakery is impressive on the eyes, with a massive selection of Greek, Italian and American desserts. This is a nice spot to enjoy a coffee and pastry. We always order their Frappe au la mode – a delicious blended mix of coffee and ice cream. Dessert choices range from baklava cheesecake to key lime pie – covering many bases between Greece and Florida. Or try a lesser known Greek dessert like Diples – a rolled crispy fried pastry filled with honey and nuts. 

The Limani

The Limani Greek salad topped with pork on the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Greek salad topped with pork souvlaki pieces at The Limani in Tarpon Springs, Florida

The Limani is the place to go for a fast and delicious lunch that won’t break the bank. While not a full-service restaurant, they have outdoor tables on the water. Their Greek salad topped with delicious souvlaki style pork is excellent and under $10. Combined with a great view of the Sponge Docks, this is one of the most popular places to eat in Tarpon Springs. Note that the counter service location is cash only.

Tarpon Springs Bakeries, Delis, Cafes and Markets

Copenhagen Cafe

Danish owned Copenhagen Cafe brews the best espresso based coffees in Tarpon Springs. They make homemade bread and an assortment of delicious cakes, gelatos and treats (we love their rum balls). You can enjoy a European-inspired breakfast, lunch or dinner there. They also have a good selection of vegetarian options, including vegan options like Chickpea Masala, Lentil Soup and African Soup. As someone whose lactose intolerant, I appreciate that they have a good selection of non-dairy milk for lattes and cappuccinos, like coconut milk, almond milk and soy milk.

Danish owned Copenhagen Cafe serves the best espresso based coffees in Tarpon Springs

Fournos Bakery

If you’re looking for the best baklava in Tarpon Springs – head to Fournos. This small bakery at 520 Athens Street is wonderful for Greek desserts, small bites and fresh-baked bread. Try their tahini- ropita – a massive Cypriot influenced sweet treat smothered in tahini (think Greek style bear claw). Their spanakopita (spinach pie) or tiropita (cheese pie) fit the bill for a tasty savory snack or lunch on the go.

Fournos Bakery bakes excellent bread if you want to make sandwiches for a picnic at the beach or park. It’s also great to in delicious Greek extra virgin olive oil or honey (which they also sell). Grab a huge fresh-baked loaf of their village bread or Athens bread for just $2.50!

They also bake delicious Melomakarona (honey & spice Greek cookies), made with walnut, spices, orange & honey. Melomakarona are traditionally a Greek Christmas cookie, but you can find them year-round at Tarpon Springs bakeries. 

Acropolis Meats and Deli

Acropolis Meats and Deli is fantastic. As Tarpon Springs locals, this is our go-to place for meats, cheeses, olives and more. If you’re staying in an Airbnb in Tarpon Springs swing by the deli to stock up. A few things we highly recommend are their sliced prosciutto, house-made roast beef, feta, graveria (aged Greek sheep cheese), fresh bread, Kalamata olives, Greek extra virgin olive oil, sausages and more. It all adds up to a great arsenal for picnic supplies at the beach. They also sell a great selection of steaks, pork chops, crab cakes and more that you can throw on the grill at home or even on a pubic grill in Fred Howard Park!

Acropolis Meats and Deli

148 E Tarpon Ave, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

Agora Food Market

Agora Food Market is the best place to stock up on imported foods from Greece. This is the place to buy fantastic Greek extra virgin olive oil, oregano, dried figs, honey, dolmades, wine, pastas and more. Their deli has a nice selection of olives and Greek cheeses like feta, graveria and kasseri. If you enjoy tea, try Greek mountain tea with nice honey – it’s relaxing before bed and filled with anti-oxidants. 

602 Athens St, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

packed tables on Athens Street in Tarpon Springs, lined with Greek restaurants and shops - seen here during Athens by Night Festival.
Athens Street in Tarpon Springs, lined with Greek restaurants and shops – seen here during the Athens by Night Festival.

Pelican Point Seafood

Pelican Point Seafood is a retail and wholesale seafood market in Tarpon Springs that carries local, wild caught Florida seafood and more. We love buying seafood like wild salmon, ahi tuna, shrimp and flounder from Pelican Point. Sometimes they also sell delicious house-smoked fish. This great local business helps support local fishermen, many of whom’s families have been involved in the industry for multiple generations.

Tarpon Springs Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries

5 Branches Brewing

Tarpon Springs has several great craft breweries, multiple wine bars and a distillery. If you’re strolling around the Sponge Docks, 5 Branches Brewing is conveniently located on Athens Street, near Dodecanese Boulevard. They recently won the Silver Medal in the Imperial Stout category at the Great American Beer Festival for their Doggin Wrench Imperial Stout. They were also awarded the Very Small Brewing Company Brewer of the year at the Great American Beer Festival.

One of my favorite beers at 5 Branches Brewing is their Red Tail Red IPA. The brew is perfect for those that like a well hopped beer that doesn’t skimp on maltiness. They also brew a delicious German Dunkel and often rotate through a variety of small-batch offerings including Belgian quadruples. They feature live music from 7pm-10pm on Saturday nights. They also host open mic nights on Wednesday from 6:30pm – 9:30pm. Pop into this veteran owned establishment for a tasty brew and some fun!

Unrefined Brewing

sour beer at Unrefined Brewing in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Unrefined Brewing serves especially high quality sour ales in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Unrefined Brewing offers a quaint and fun space to enjoy delicious craft beer in Tarpon Springs. They feature 20 taps with a variety of brews from stouts, IPA’s to sours. Try their Number 6 Dance, a Double Imperial Milk Stout with dark bitter chocolate and hints of vanilla. They brew a wide variety of interesting sours, more than most brewers. Their Bacchus sour is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with lactose and vanilla beans. We especially love the fruited sours there as they aren’t too sweet, and have a refreshing tartness. Try their I’m in Crisis Sour, a kettle sour with blackberries, cherries, lactose and vanilla.

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is a lovely spot to soak up some sun and fresh seaside air along the Gulf of Mexico. Lay out during the day or 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. Pack a picnic filled with local Greek treats you pick up from bakeries in Tarpon Springs! There are lot of picnic tables on Sunset Beach with lovely views of the palm trees and the Gulf of Mexico.

Alex and Bell kissing with sunset in the background on the aptly named Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs, Florida
A sunset kiss on aptly named Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Fred Howard Park

palm trees on the beach at sunset at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida at sunset.

Fred Howard Park is a fantastic spot for beachgoers. A scenic one-mile-long causeway connects the park with the mainland. Enjoy the white sand beach, which offers lovely views of windsurfers navigating the Gulf waves. The park has picnic shelters, public grills, a butterfly garden, softball field, beach volleyball court, playground and a hiking/biking trail. It is just 1.3 miles (2.2km) from Sunset Beach to Fred Howard Park. You can drive, bike or even walk between the two beautiful parks!

Craig Park

sunset view of a statue in Craig Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Craig Park, Tarpon Springs, Florida at sunset.

Craig Park is one of the most picturesque parks in Tarpon Springs. Located at 5 Beekman Lane, Craig Park is dotted with scenic bayous, and covers 6.8 acres in the heart of town. It features a saltwater boat launch, two lighted tennis courts, restrooms, practice tennis wall, six shuffleboard courts, playground, bandshell, picnic tables and benches The scenic walkway around the beautiful Spring Bayou is a lovely place for a walk or run. During the warmer months, you can often spot manatees playing in Whitcomb Bayou. 

Craig Park hosts the largest Epiphany celebration in North America. The winner of the annual dive for the cross is meant to have good luck for the rest of the year.  

Check out a complete list of Tarpon Springs parks on the city’s official website. 

Bell sitting below palm trees in Craig Park, in Tarpon Springs.
Bell sitting below palm trees in Craig Park, in Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs Boat Tours

Dodecanese Boulevard is a great place to eat, shop and sightsee. Several companies offer boat tours that leave right from the picturesque Sponge Docks. Enjoy beautiful scenery while viewing wildlife, learning about sponge history and perhaps visit the stunning Anclote State Preserve. You can often save the $5 Tarpon Springs parking fee if you’re taking a boat tour too.

Odyssey Cruises

Odyssey Cruises offers a 2 hour trip down the Anclote River into the Gulf of Mexico. Common sights on their afternoon cruises include dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, fish, tropical foliage and a variety of birds. An optional shore excursion is available to disembark at the Historic Anclote Key Lighthouse on Anclote State Preserve. Explore the beautiful island’s wildlife up close or stroll the beach looking for precious shells.

St. Nicolas Boatline

Alex wearing an old sponge diving helmet on a  St. Nicolas Boatline sponge history tour in Tarpon Springs
Trying on an old sponge diving helmet aboard St. Nicolas Boatline.

St. Nicolas Boatline is a third-generation family-run operation that launched in 1924. This picturesque narrated boat tour sails down the scenic Anclote River as visitors learn how Tarpon Springs became the “Sponge Capital of the World.” One highlight of the tour is watching a sponge diver in a traditional inflated sponge diving suit dive from the boat into the river. Watch as he moves quickly across the river floor to harvest a live sponge and return to the boat with it. Learn about the different types of sponges, their uses and proper care to ensure they last a long time.

 Tarpon Springs Shopping

Dad and I posing for a fun photo at the Sponge Factory in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Fun photo options at The Sponge Factory in Tarpon Springs, Florida!

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. Every time we visit Tarpon Springs we purchase some sponges to take home and to give as gifts. If you want sponges to wash yourself with, pay a little extra for the wool sponges, which are softer.

Huge pile of sponges along the Sponge Docks of Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs
Huge pile of sponges along the Sponge Docks of Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

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.

Tarpon Springs Historical Society

The Tarpon Springs Historic Train Depot was built over 100 years. It’s no longer a train station but now serves as a museum managed by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society. The Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society promotes the research and preservation of artifacts, relics and historical points of interest in the Tarpon Springs area.

The former train ticket window at the Tarpon Springs Historical Society
The Tarpon Springs Historical Society was previously the train station. A former ticket window is pictured.

Tarpon Springs is the oldest town in Pinellas county. The train depot previously served as the cultural meeting point of the town, where people came to see who was coming and going. There’s a lot to learn at the Tarpon Springs Historical Society, which also documents the separate ticket windows for whites and blacks under Jim Crowe laws. The museum aims to further educational and cultural development; while preserving materials, information and historical artifacts for future generations.

Tarpon Springs Festivals

First Friday

Tarpon Springs is home to a variety of festivals throughout the year. First Fridays are popular with visitors from around Florida’s Gulf Coast. Tarpon Springs Road closes to vehicular traffic and downtown becomes a big street party with live music and lots of tasty food and boutique stalls. First Fridays happen on the first Friday evening of each month from around 6pm-10pm.

A bustling and delicious chicken teriyaki stall at First Friday in Tarpon Springs.
Bustling and delicious chicken teriyaki vendor at First Friday in Tarpon Springs.

Sunset Beach Concert Series

Sunset Beach also hosts free live concerts once a month during the summer. This is another popular draw, sometimes drawing buses of visitors from The Villages. Plan to arrive early for closer parking. Or you can park in a nearby neighborhood and take a short walk to enjoy the live music.

lots of people and palm trees for the Sunset Beach Concert Series in Tarpon Springs
The Sunset Beach Concert Series in summer is popular with locals and visitors.

Tarpon Springs Events Calendar of Festivals and More

Other festivals throughout the year include Athens by Night, Craft Festivals, Hippie Festivals, Christmas Lighting, Shakespeare and more. Check the Tarpon Springs events calendar for upcoming events.

Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Beautiful frescoes inside Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Beautiful frescoes inside Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Saint Nicholas Cathedral is the parish for Greek-American life in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Located at 36 North Pinellas Avenue, the storied Neo-Byzantine church features beautiful frescoes and marble from Greece. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the sea, so many Greek churches and cathedrals are named after him.

St. Nicholas hosts an annual Epiphany celebration on January 6, where Greek Orthodox boys aged 16 to 18 dive into the Spring Bayou to retrieve a white wooden cross. It draws thousands of spectators and is televised in the Tampa area. Legend says the finder of the cross will be showered with good luck for the year. The diving of the cross is the largest event of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, with thousands in attendance. A statue of an epiphany diver is located in front of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

Tarpon Springs Hotels

Alex standing in front a lovely Tarpon Springs, Florida mural
Downtown Tarpon Springs, Florida mural.

Luxury

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, including 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.

Mid Range

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.

Budget

Quality Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs has an outdoor pool, hot tub and fitness center. All guest rooms have a coffee maker, desk, hairdryer, cable TV, iron and ironing board. Some rooms have a microwave, refrigerator, sofa sleeper and balcony. Other amenities include 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 Bay and St. Petersburg Tours

Tarpon Springs is close to a wealth of great destinations like Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin, Clearwater Beach, St. Petersburg, Fort De Soto, Tampa and more. While you’re in the area on vacation, you may want to consider one of these interesting and fun tours!

You can take a Tampa History Cruise. Learn about Tampa’s past through live on-board commentary while you sail. Multiple departure times make it easy to fit into your itinerary. Light refreshments are provided onboard. Tour prices start at $30.77.

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 St. Pete. Tour prices are $60 per person. 

Tarpon Springs Recap

Tarpon Springs is one of the best destinations in the USA to experience Greek culture along the Sponge Docks. You can also enjoy fresh seafood, multiple beaches at Sunset Beach and Fred Howard Park and lap up the relaxed Florida vibes. Plan to take one of several picturesque boat tours, like Anclote Key or a sunset cruise. Don’t forget to purchase some sponges. They’re wonderful for bathing and cleaning, so they make great gifts too. Tarpon Springs is one of the most authentic Florida vacation destinations for culture!

Dad and I, Alex Kallimanis Sr. celebrating his 90th birthday in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Have questions about planning your Florida vacation? You can leave a comment below or email me at alex(at)wanderlustmarriage.com and I’ll be happy to assist you. You may also want to read my articles on Great Day Trips from Tampa and Alternative Orlando Gems You Don’t Read About.  

Pinterest pin of Tarpon Springs

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3 thoughts on “Local Tips For Visiting Tarpon Springs, Florida

    1. Tough question, Adam! We definitely recommend trying at least one of the Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs and we frequently eat at Katerina’s, which is excellent. For fresh seafood, Rusty Bellies is extremely popular so expect a long wait, especially on weekends. We also really enjoy the seafood at Bayou Bistro. Downtown Tarpon is home to a variety of good restaurants that includes delicious Italian, wood fired pizza, Creole, Jamaican and more. This is a fantastic town to eat!

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