Though it’s not well-known among visitors, Tarpon Springs has the largest population of citizens with Greek heritage of any city in the United States, and the city features a number of cultural events to celebrate this heritage each year.
Tarpon Springs is located in Pinellas County and had a population of about 24,000 residents at the time of the last census. It has undergone many urban improvement projects in recent years.
Also known as the natural sponge capital of the world, it boasts dozens of miles of scenic waterfront.
Below are 15 things to do in Tarpon Springs.
1. Sunset Beach
For many visitors to Tarpon Springs, it’s all about the beaches.
By some estimations, the town has more than 50 miles of waterfront land area; a quick look at a map will probably reveal that it’s true.
Sunset Beach is a particular favorite for those traveling with little ones because of its abundance of clear, shallow, calm waters and long stretches of white sand. As its name implies, it’s home to some amazing sunsets too.
For those who’d rather not pack up and head out when it’s time to eat, there are covered seating areas and built-in grills, as well as ample parking nearby.
2. Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
Tarpon Springs isn’t known as the sponge capital of the world for nothing. For visitors interested in getting up-close-and-personal with this unique slice of the city’s history, there’s no better place to do it than the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
The docks are one of Tarpon Springs’ most visited attractions, and in many ways, are the city’s cultural, economic, and historical heart.
Over the years, they’ve played vital roles in the city’s development. Though the natural sponge business isn’t what it once was, the docks are a free and fascinating place to visit and deserve an hour of your time.
3. Tarpon Springs Wildlife Tours
The clear, temperate waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast are home to a huge variety of marine species and are another of the area’s major attractions.
From manatees and sea turtles to predatory birds and the massive, silvery tarpon after which the city is named, Tarpon Springs and the surrounding areas are a nature lover’s paradise. Many guests opt to experience the splendor and wildlife as part of a guided tour.
Several tour providers and packages are available, ranging from a half-hour to multiple hours; the dolphin and sea turtle tours are among the most popular.
4. Leepa-Rattner Museum
Located on the campus of St. Petersburg College on Klosterman Road in Tarpon Springs, the Leepa-Rattner Museum features one of the area’s most impressive collections of contemporary art.
Most of the pieces in the museum’s collection are from the 20th and 21st centuries and have been created in a variety of mediums, such as oil paint, ceramics, and photography.
Though it’s not big by museum standards, most guests find their experience exceeds their expectations, and that they learned a lot about the area’s history during their visit too.
Plan on spending an hour or two to see all there is to see.
5. Take a Cruise
For those with stout sea legs, there’s no better way to experience Tarpon Springs than via one of the many cruises that are available.
While the marine animal sightseeing tours are big favorites, they’re far from the only game in town.
For beachcombers and shell enthusiasts, there are popular, reasonably priced tours that head to Key Preserve State Park, a year-round hotspot for sand dollars, conch, and beautiful driftwood.
For those who’d rather not labor under the intense Florida sun, the myriad of sunset cruises would be great options; many of them include dinner and drinks.
6. Tarpon Springs Historic District
Historic downtown Tarpon Springs is a quaint slice of heaven and is often referred to as the Antique District.
An easily accessible area perfect for culture and history-minded travelers who don’t mind being on their feet, it’s a particularly popular destination for those interested in doing a bit of shopping.
Featuring many antique shops selling everything from vintage jewelry and clothing to furniture, housewares, and pricy collectibles, it’s the perfect place to spend a few morning or afternoon hours. There are restaurant and coffee shops nearby for when you need to relax and refill your tanks.
7. Eat Greek
With such a rich Greek history, it’s no surprise that Tarpon Springs is loaded with Greek restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops. For those who’ve never tried authentic Greek cuisine, your visit to Tarpon Springs would be the perfect time to do just that.
Hellas, Mama’s Greek Cuisine, and Mr. Souvlaki are a few of the favorites and feature some of Greece’s most traditional and tasty dishes, like baklava, stuffed grape leaves, and classic Greek salad.
Most of what you’ll eat is homemade onsite by those with strong ties to the Old World. Though the restaurants can get busy during peak times, there’s ample parking nearby.
8. Anclote Key State Park Lighthouse
Anclote Key State Park Lighthouse is located a few miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs and is accessible by both private boat and public ferry from the mainland.
The main attraction is the historic lighthouse that was originally built in the late 19th century and served as an important beacon for area mariners. But the park features a number of recreation options that makes it one of those places many visitors choose to spend an entire day.
The park’s beaches are often less crowded than others that are more easily accessible. Bird watching, searching for shells, swimming, and sunbathing are popular too.
9. Sample a Few Micro-brews
Though it’s a small city, Tarpon Springs has a reputation as an epicenter in the Florida micro-brewing community. For beer enthusiasts looking for a break from the sweltering sun, there are a few options.
Two Frogs Brewing Company is located in an old drug store that’s been made to look like a speakeasy from the prohibition era. They’re known for their Belgian style beers – a few of which are infused with chocolate.
Saint Somewhere Brewing Company is located inside a residential home, and previous guests have noted that they ended up enjoying its odd setting.
They sport lots of tasty beer options but no food, so you’ll need to eat elsewhere.
10. Shrine of St. Michael Taxiarchis
Florida is so full of sand, sun, and seafood that many guests overlook less commercial but more unique attractions. For those looking for less of the former and more of the latter, a short trip to the Shrine of St. Michael Taxiarchis would be the perfect way to spend an hour.
The shrine is located near the sponge docks, making it convenient to see in conjunction with them; many locals and visitors claim that it holds significant powers.
The story goes that the shrine was built for a boy dying from a tumor, but that shortly after its completion, he recovered; it’s held a special spot in local lore ever since.
11. Tarpon Springs Aquarium
With its abundant coastline, rivers, and bayous, Tarpon Springs is home to a huge variety of animals that live in both fresh and saltwater. There’s no better place to see many of them than the Tarpon Springs Aquarium.
The aquarium has recently relocated to a newer and larger facility on Dixie highway, and its residents include everything from sharks and gators to rays and many colorful reef fish.
The cost of admission is relatively inexpensive, and though it’s not the world’s largest aquarium, most guests feel like they’ve gotten a good bang for their travel bucks.
12. Fred Howard Park
For those traveling on budgets, parks can be recreation gems that are easily accessible, free, or inexpensive. They offer a variety of recreation options packed into one area.
Fred Howard Park is comprised of more than 150 acres along the Gulf of Mexico coast and draws more than a million visitors annually.
It’s a beach-lovers paradise known for its clean white sand and clear blue waters that are popular with sun worshipers, snorkelers, kayakers, and paddle-boarders.
Shore fishing is popular along the long causeway leading into the park and is often most productive in the morning and evening hours.
13. Tarpon Springs Splash Park
Vacations have a magical way of making hard-earned money disappear with frightening efficiency. For those in need of a free and kid-friendly entertainment destination, there’s no better place than the Tarpon Springs Splash Park.
Not surprisingly, the splash park is a popular place that can get downright crowded during peak summer times, so it’s not a good idea for those looking for a little peace and quiet. But it features many amenities like slides, fountains, and pools, as well as some cool animal replicas like a manatee and tarpon.
Parents who’d rather watch the action from a safe distance will appreciate the covered seating areas.
14. Opa! Palooza
Though you may have missed it this year, the Opa! Palooza Greek Festival in Tarpon Springs will be around in June of next year too, so between then and now, you’ll have plenty of time to make your travel plans.
Taking place at the historic sponge docks, the festival includes a battle of the bands, arts and crafts, tons of tasty food, and a number of games and other fun activities for kids.
The festival lasts for three days at the beginning of the month. Though the weather can be blistering, it’s a unique chance to immerse yourself in the culture that’s shaped the area more than any other.
15. Sponge Docks Seafood Festival
Taking place in mid-November when the Florida weather is perfect, the Sponge Docks Seafood Festival is a culinary icon that’s been drawing crowds of seafood lovers for years.
Live entertainment, arts and crafts, games and contests abound. For those who’ve never experienced the holiday season Florida-style, it’ll be a great chance to do just that.
Many vendors and patrons will have their Christmas garb and decorations at the ready. In addition, several of the boats and businesses will be decked out in lights, making for some breathtaking photo ops – especially after the sun has gone down.