Note: This guide first appeared in our email newsletter series, One Day in Tampa Bay. Subscribe to that newsletter and check out our other offerings at tampabay.com/newsletters.
Tarpon Springs’ reputation hinges largely on its Greek heritage, which dates back to the early sponge divers who settled along the Anclote River in the early 1900s. The north Pinellas County hamlet still boasts the largest population of Greeks outside of Greece.
You can make a great day out of strolling Tarpon Springs’ most well-known attraction: the historic Sponge Docks, a busy pedestrian area on the Anclote River with shops, restaurants, sponge boats and other waterside attractions. It’s worth a trip year-round, though it can get crowded and sweaty during the summertime.
There are also plenty of hidden gems to explore farther away from the touristy section — from quirky boutiques and excursions (pinball museum, anyone?) to new distilleries, breweries and eateries.
The Sponge Docks
A visit to the Sponge Docks along Dodecanese Boulevard requires at least one visit to a Greek eatery. Mykonos and Mama’s are great options, but Hellas is one of our favorites.
Hellas has a kitschy old-school vibe: hanging plastic grapes, mirrored walls embossed with sea life scenes and mini chandeliers dangling from each ceiling fan. You will hear a chorus of “Opa!” approximately 10 times during your visit, usually as a server sets down a plate of saganaki — a sizzling brick of fried cheese that arrives engulfed in flames.
This is the place to order a Greek salad, and the signature scoop of potato salad in the middle makes it a Tarpon Springs classic. The menu here is vast, but a good bet is the cold appetizer platter, which features octopus, shrimp, skordalia and taramasalata, a light pink cured fish roe dip.
On your way out, be sure to stop by the bakery next door, where flaky baklava and a long list of scrumptious pastries are sold. It supplies Greek festivals across the country with goodies.
After indulging in all that seafood, it’s time to get on the water. To learn more about how sponges are harvested, book a tour with St. Nicholas Boat Line. Each 40-minute excursion costs $16 and gives you a chance to watch real sponge divers at work. (Be sure to call ahead first.) The Spongeorama Cruise offers sunset and dolphin cruises on the Anclote River. You can also take a boat to Anclote Key Preserve State Park or charter a fishing boat.
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There’s no shortage of souvenir shops along the Sponge Docks, most touting olive oil soaps, seashells,T-shirts and, of course, sponges. Want to get off the touristy strip for a bit? There’s plenty to explore off the beaten path, including the winding side streets that veer off Dodecanese Boulevard. Check out Sea Monkey Vintage, a store specializing in 1980s and ‘90s collector items and clothes.
If you’re looking to take something home for dinner, try Lockhart’s Seafood, a family-owned fish and seafood shop. Aside from the freshest catch of the day, it’s stocked with crackers, lime juice, spices and everything you’ll need to gussy up your seafood meal. Fish dip is also on hand for those looking for a grab-and-go snack.
Times tip: If you’re feeling like an outdoor excursion, hop in the car and drive over to Fred Howard Park, a 155-acre park and beach right on the Gulf of Mexico.
If you’re not coming by car, riding up the Pinellas Trail from Dunedin or Palm Harbor is a nice way to work up an appetite.
Paid lots line Dodecanese Boulevard, but if you drive all the way to the end, near Rusty Bellies, there’s usually a good amount of street parking on side streets.
There are public restrooms near the corner of Hope Street and Dodecanese Boulevard.
Downtown Tarpon Springs
We love the quiet charm of downtown, where you can comfortably spend a day strolling novelty shops and art galleries, popping into breweries and restaurants along the way.
Take a walk over to Craig Park and swing by the Tarpon Springs Historical Train Depot Museum, which occupies a former railroad station and features exhibits on education, health care and other local institutions.
For a little fun (and games), check out Replay Museum, where a $14 adult day pass gives you free access to more than 120 arcade games. Among them: a huge selection of pinball machines. Continue to feed your inner child with a trip to Bear Haven Land Company, which stocks just about every type of vintage toy imaginable, including rows of retro Barbies and American Girl dolls, Hot Wheels and collectible “Simpsons” paraphernalia.
For more shopping and gifts, there’s furniture shop One Amazing Find, offering both knickknacks and craft workshops. And the Healing Hedge Witch is a one-stop “metaphysical shop” for all things witchy, from tarot decks and crystals to incense and spell books.
Thirsty? Swing by Brighter Days Brewing Company, which stocks a great selection of sours and IPAs, among other brews, and features a spacious outdoor patio, right off the Pinellas Trail. If wine is more your speed, there’s nearby Wine Society, where you can pick from over 50 different bottles of wine while noshing on a build-your-own charcuterie spread. And to sip something a little stronger, hit up Tarpon Tavern or the Twisted Orange craft cocktail bar.
For a more interactive experience, be sure to check out Tarpon Springs Distillery. It’s located in the former Stephen Katzaras Sponge Company, a renovated historic sponge warehouse. Take a tour and learn all about the spot’s small-batch distilling process while sampling house spirits like Papou’s Ouzo and Anclote Hot & Dirty Gin.
If by now you’re getting hungry, swing by H’ours Creole Smokehouse, a modern Creole restaurant with live music on the outdoor deck. For a slightly more upscale experience, Currents features dishes like escargots in a brandy mustard cream sauce and pork osso buco served over grits.
Cap off the day with a much-deserved sweet treat from Orange Cycle Creamery, where small-batch ice cream flavors include lavender honey, salted caramel and pumpkin cheesecake.
Check out our other local guides
- Southeast St. Petersburg guide: From hidden waterfront gems to Black history
- Downtown Tampa guide: How to explore Riverwalk and beyond without a car
- Pinellas County beach guide: Where to eat, drink and relax along the Gulf
- Safety Harbor guide: Plan a day of indulgence, from pizza to public art