If you’re looking for things to do in Tarpon Springs, Florida, you’ve come to the right place! This charming seaside town is full of activities and attractions for everyone to enjoy. From swimming and sunbathing on the beautiful beaches to exploring the unique shops and restaurants downtown, there’s something for everyone in Tarpon Springs. So whether you’re a local or just passing through, be sure to check out our list of things to do in Tarpon Springs!
Tarpon Springs history and Greek influence
Right outside of Tampa and about an hour and a half from Sarasota, Tarpon Springs never lets me down. When we first moved to Florida and everything was new, this was one of the places we discovered. The smell of Greek food and saltwater fills the air of this charming town known for its sponges. The Sponge Industry helped build a Greek Community in Tarpon Springs.
The first settlers in the area of Tarpon Springs came in 1876 and named the settlement after the fish that inhabited the area. Unknown to them though, those fish that leaped out of the water were actually mullet, not tarpon! The name, however, stuck.
In 1880, a wealthy saw manufacturer, Hamilton Disston, saved the State of Florida from bankruptcy by purchasing 4 million acres from the Governor at 25 cents an acre. This purchase included Tarpon Springs. Four years late, a post office was established and soon the railroad followed. Disston, through investments, fashioned Tarpon Springs into an exclusive winter resort for wealthy Northerners. Think Dirty Dancing, if you will.
Even though Tarpon Springs was successful as a resort, they discovered that money could be made by harvesting the sponge growing in its Gulf waters. And it wasn’t long before sponging became the area’s most important industry. The sponge industry was well established in Tarpon Springs by 1890 with almost a million dollars worth of sponges being sold that same year.
The next few years brought experienced divers from Greece and with the immigration, Greek culture. The early sponge divers, which in 1905 consisted of about 50 boats and 500 men, created the need at the docks for crews to eat. As the industry grew, so did the number of tourists coming to the docks to see sponges. Shops opened and the Tarpon Springs we know now saw its early foundations laid as the need for souvenir sponges arose.
With the advancement of diving technology, divers were able to deeper and for longer lengths of time, increasing the profit of the sponging industry. For 30 years, the sponge industry was the largest industry in Florida and earned Tarpon Springs the title of “Sponge Capital of the World.” Sponging was larger than citrus AND tourism during this time.
By the 1940s however, the industry took a hit in the form of blight. This mildew disease reduced the growth of sponges and in just 10 years the sponging industry was nearly wiped out. In the 1980s new sponge beds were found and Tarpon Springs is now back to being a leader in the sponge world.
Today, Tarpon Springs attracts people from all over who are looking for a bit of adventure, Old Florida history, and good food. Visitors can see firsthand the sponge harvesting experience and the Greek influence. The Greek Village at the Sponge Docks gives visitors coming to Tarpon Springs shops and restaurants to explore each with that Old Florida flair that hasn’t been hit by conglomerates or chain stores yet. And with so many restaurants and bakeries within walking distance, lunch is never something you have to worry about, just picking which one of the amazing authentic Greek kitchens will grace your pallet with delicious food.
Visit the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
A visit to Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks is an absolute must-do if you’re looking for a unique Florida experience. Located on the Gulf Coast about 40 miles from either Tampa or Clearwater, this small town of Greek heritage is known for its sponge diving industry, which dates back centuries ago. To this day, the Sponge Exchange at the docks is still a thriving hub of activity. A variety of restaurants serving up traditional Greek foods dot the shoreline, and visitors can even take an authentic boat ride to nearby Anclote Key Preserve State Park for swimming and snorkeling or just check out the unique vendors around town offering everything from jewelry to handmade souvenirs! There’s something for everyone in this lively locale!
Go on a dolphin-watching tour
For an exciting, fun-filled day, why not take a dolphin-watching tour? You and your family will be able to discover the wonders of the Florida Gulf Waters as you observe dolphins up close. Enjoy learning about these amazing creatures and their habitat from a knowledgeable guide, who will point out all of the fun facts about dolphins and their environment. This is sure to be an experience that your whole family will cherish for years to come!
A variety of sightseeing cruises are always ready to take you out into the bay to explore the waters and visit the historic lighthouse. There are cruises covering everything from nature tours, sponge diving expeditions, and deep sea fishing so there is something for everyone in the family.
Take a kayak out on the Anclote River
The Anclote River offers a relaxed and tranquil environment for anyone looking to enjoy some time outdoors. Whether you choose to rent a kayak or canoe or bring your own, you’ll definitely have plenty of fun while exploring the river at your own pace. The surrounding nature is just something that needs to be seen to be believed, providing hours upon hours of exploration. Kayak rental shops around Head Spring also make it easy to get out onto the river without having to worry about bringing your own equipment. So why not spend the day kayaking down the scenic Anclote River – you won’t regret it!
Enjoy nature and get some fresh air
Tarpon Springs is a paradise for nature lovers, providing plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the Florida sunshine. With dozens of parks spread throughout the city, there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking to admire nature’s beauty, you can find a park! Enjoy walking trails winding through lush greenery and spots for bird-watching. So don’t accept staying inside another day – break away from the hustle and bustle by visiting one of the many parks in Tarpon Springs today!
Check out some of the local shops
If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir to take home with you, look no further than Tarpon Springs! With its unique Greek influence, the area offers some of the most unique and one-of-a-kind gifts. Stroll through the main street district and browse soap creations, jewelry made from shells, handmade items, and greek-inspired souvenirs. Go a step further and head down to Spring Bayou and check out one of the sponging boats or dockside attractions for a truly special memento for your travels.
Spring Bayou, the site of the original settlement in the area provides a look at the past as you stroll along the winding streets. The mark of wealthy visitors can be seen in the grandeur of homes that became winter homes for those looking to escape harsh winters.
There’s something for everyone in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or shopping, you’ll find plenty to do in this unique little town. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!