Imagine this: You are moving to Florida and you want to buy a house. You have some money and the only dealmaking requirements are that the home has to be close to an airport and close to water.
The Sunshine State is your oyster.
That's the enviable position the Moller family found themselves in a couple of years ago when they decided to move from their southern New Jersey home so that Beth Moller could be closer to her job managing Disney stores.
"We looked all over the east coast," said James Moller, a real estate agent. "Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Boynton Beach. " Nice, but they didn't fall in love with any of them.
And then it hit him. He knew Tampa had a great airport because his dad lived in Seminole. Just like that, they switched coasts.
Moller said they looked at about 10 houses in the Tampa Bay area before his wife, Beth, found their dream home — in paradise.
Harbour Watch. A gated subdivision on the tip of the peninsula that juts into the Gulf of Mexico on the far side of the Anclote River.
"As soon as you come in the gate, it's Shangri- la," Moller said.
Actually, as soon as you turn off U.S. 19, there's a feeling that Shangri-la may be ahead.
The hustle and bustle and traffic snarls and retail stores are suddenly replaced by hilly (yes, hilly) and winding picturesque roads that cut up and around large and small bodies of water.
There's something to see everywhere. A 100-year-old Victorian house, a painted lady with all her gingerbread. A small downtown that looks as if it belongs on the California coast, not Florida's.
Water is everywhere. If you're on the west side, you can see the gulf; on the east, you can see the Anclote River or bayou. In between, the road hugs lagoons and lakes and crosses water on bridges. Several large houses with sweeping front yards sit up on a hill across from a little lake.
There are no beaches around the perimeter of the peninsula-with-no-name, but there are two that stick out into the gulf like lollipops on sticks: Fred Howard Park and Sunset Beach. The beach area at Fred Howard emerges at the end of a short bridge after a winding ride through a shady, tropical forest area. Shangri-la again.
Of course, there's no way to talk about Tarpon Springs without talking about its famous sponge docks. Although sponges are still harvested out at sea, the heyday of the sponge industry was in the early 1900s, when experienced Greek divers were brought in to harvest them. Those immigrants and their descendants are the reason for the large Greek population in the city.
Today, the docks — and the shops that grew up around them — are more important for their historical significance than the industry itself, not unlike California's Cannery Row, which grew up around the sardine industry.
One last tidbit. Tarpon Springs could actually be called Mullet Springs. Historians believe it was the misidentification of the jumping fish that led early settlers to christen it "Tarpon" Springs.
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected]