Tarpon Springs: Exciting Things to Do in the Sponge Capital of the World

Along the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s west coast, Tarpon Springs—renowned as the Sponge Capital of the World, is a truly unique destination that many still haven’t discovered.

Referred to as the “Florida Greek Town,” this picturesque town that’s just 30 minutes from Clearwater, boasts a captivating Greek culture and community.

Its downtown area is designated as a Historic District and features 145 historic buildings.

One of the top attractions in Tarpon Springs is embarking on a sponge diving tour, along with shopping for sponges and indulging in delicious Greek cuisine.

bicycle covered in sea sponges

How Did This Florida Town Become The Sponge Capital Of The World?

As our tour guide gave us details on the history of the sea sponge industry in Tarpon Springs, he mentioned that there has always been an abundance of sea sponges in this area.

touching a live sponge on the diving tour
Raw sponge before the cleaning process.

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It turns out, that this town’s rich history dates back to the late 1800s, with the arrival of the first Greek sponge divers that began harvesting sponges from the sea floor.

Their traditional methods of sponge harvesting were passed on through generations and throughout the years, Tarpon Springs had a thriving sponge industry.

sponges of different sizes placed on wooden racks by a window

During this time, Greek families began settling in town and businesses started to center around the docks.

So much so, that today Tarpon Springs holds the largest Greek population in the U.S.

Not to mention, it’s also become an amazing tourist destination that sparks interest from visitors from all over the world.

people walking at the sponge exchange
🛏 Places to stay in Tarpon Springs

🏩 Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort
🏩 Fairfield Inn & Suites
🏩 Best Western Plus Yacht Harbor Inn

Fun Things To Do in Tarpon Springs

There are many fun exciting things to do in this Greek town. From cruise tours, sponge diving tours, and strolls along the Sponge Docks to breweries, wineries, and watching the Gulf Coast sunset.

a photo of us by the anclote river

Additionally, shopping for sea sponges in all types and sizes is quite an experience all on its own.

For the most part, the downtown area of Tarpon Springs is very walkable. Therefore, to get the most out of your trip, the best time to visit Tarpon Springs is during Spring and Fall.

With the nicer weather around this time of the year, you’ll feel more comfortable while exploring the town on foot.

1. Stroll Along the Sponge Docks

The Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks are the most popular attraction in the downtown area.

As you stroll along the docks, you can spot the St. Nicholas VII boat right next to the popular restaurant Dimitris on the Water.

This St. Nicholas VII offers a river cruise tour along the Tarpon Springs sponge docks and the Anclote River.

st nicholas vii boat tour

On the opposite side of the docks, you’ll be captivated by the great variety of shops selling handmade soaps, beauty products, and lots and lots of sponges.

Carlos and I did some shopping (of course) and brought home some bath and facial sponges. Which by the way, leaves your skin feeling silky smooth.

natural sea sponges

Another highlight of the Sponge Docks is the Sponge Diver Memorial Statue whose plaque reads “In Memory of the Spongers of Tarpon Springs”.

Being a scuba diver myself, I have a great appreciation for this statue.

I was thrilled to see that this statue in the City of Tarpon Springs bears a striking resemblance to the old scuba diving suit and copper helmet worn by divers many decades ago.

scuba diver memorial statue

2. Go on a Sponge Diving Tour

One of the most iconic tours in Tarpon Springs is this cruise tour down the Anclote River departing right from the Sponge Docks.

holding a live sponge on the tour
Sponge Diving Tour

You’ll learn about the history of the sponge industry, and enjoy a live demonstration of sponge harvesting from a diver on board.

The tour lasts about 45 minutes and is suitable for all ages.

3. Go Sponge Shopping

You can’t visit the Sponge Capital of the World and not bring home any sea sponges.

There are a great number of local shops with all sorts of handmade items as well as many different types and sizes of sponges that you can use in a variety of ways.

sea sponges at the sponge factory
The Sponge Factory, Tarpon Springs

Where is the best place to buy sponges in Tarpon Springs? For the best quality and prices, we recommend buying your sponges at The Sponge Factory. Their sponge displays include facts about each sponge and its uses.

shopping for sponges in tarpon springs

4. Watch the Sunset at Fred Howard Park

The Gulf Coast of Florida is home to the most beautiful sunsets in the state! Therefore, when visiting this coastal town, making time to watch the sunset is a must!

Now, there are two main places close to the Sponge Docks where you can watch the sunset. Most visitors will immediately go to Sunset Beach because, well, the name pretty much says it all.

fred howard beach
Fred Howard Beach

However, while we did go to Sunset Beach, we found that the great number of people and the time it takes to find a parking spot takes away from the whole experience.

Do you have to pay to park on Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs? No, there is no parking fee in Sunset Beach.

sunset in fred howard park beach
Sunset in Fred Howard Park Beach

For this reason, we found that Fred Howard Park, located on Sunset Dr., is a much better option to watch the sunset in Tarpon Springs.

The 1-mile drive along the causeway is beautiful and peaceful. There is ample parking and the white sandy beach with palm trees is the perfect place for sunset viewing!

How much is the parking fee at Fred Howard Park? The parking fee is $5 and that covers the whole day. The park opens daily from 7 am to sunset.

tarpon springs postcard mural

5. Visit Tarpon Springs Castle Winery

This European-style winery, located in the historic district, is a must-visit for those who enjoy hand-crafted wines.

Upon entering, you’ll be walking through a cute courtyard area with a wrought-iron gazebo and plenty of cozy seating chairs.

castle winery

You’ll love the warm and romantic ambiance of this winery and it was a great place for us to relax. Plus, you’ll get a souvenir glass with your purchase.

Wine Tasting tours are offered at 1 pm and 5 pm, by reservation only. You can make your reservation by contacting the winery.

sitting on a wooden bench next to the pelican statue

What Is So Special About Tarpon Springs?

Although it’s a relatively small town, Tarpon Springs offers a unique travel experience for those wanting to explore something different.

Its picturesque buildings, the Sponge Dock, and delicious Greek cuisine make this small town a very special destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Not to mention, it has the most popular bakery right on the waterfront!

scuba diver murals

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old scuba diving suit hanging by a door

🗺 RECOMMENDED: Fun Things to Do Near Tarpon Springs

Greek markets, and annual events like the Tarpon Springs Epiphany Celebration, and the Sponge Docks Seafood Festival are some of the reasons why this coastal town is worth a visit.

For us, it was the Sponge Diving Cruise Tour and all the cool facts about sponge harvesting that made us love this town even more.

Do They Still Harvest Sponges in Tarpon Springs?

Yes, they still harvest sea sponges in Tarpon Springs. You can see all the fishing boats lined up at the Sponge Docks.

If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the sponges catching some sun as they’re hung to dry on the boats.

me holding a really big sea sponge

Check out these amazing things to do in Tarpon Springs!

🚣🏻‍♀️ Guided Anclote River Kayaking Tour
🎟 Golf Cart Tours
👻 Ghost and History Tour

Places to Eat: Best Greek Food Around Town

Tarpon Springs is home to some of the best Greek food in the country and for good reason! Yes, there is much more to Greek food than Gyros.

Mykonos Restaurant

First, we had dinner at Mykonos, located on Dodecanese Blvd, right across from Dimitris on the Water.

One of the things I love the most about Mykonos is that you can enjoy the nice view of the Sponge Docks while you’re dining.

mykonos restaurant storefront with people walking by

For our appetizer, we tried the Saganaki, or “flaming cheese” which is decadent and delicious.

Then, for our main courses, I had the Chicken Shish Ke Bob with Greek Potatoes and Carlos had the Gyro Platter.

The food at Mykonos Restaurant is an absolute WOW and the service was incredible.

Hella’s Restaurant & Bakery

The other restaurant we tried was Hella’s Restaurant— one of the best places for desserts in Tarpon Springs.

Also located on Dodecanese Blvd, this quaint restaurant is very popular amongst visitors, and therefore, it gets very crowded. Just know in advance that most likely, there will be a wait time to be seated.

hella's restaurant

The best thing about this restaurant is that it has its own bakery with a great variety of delicious desserts. We’ll talk more about this in the desserts section.

While dining at Hella’s, we had the traditional Hummus spread with pita bread as an appetizer and the hummus was really good.

greek food Hella's restaurant


As for the main courses, I had the Spanakopita—which had a really nice flavor, with rice pilaf and peas in tomato sauce and Carlos had the Keftedes (meatballs). According to Carlos, the Keftedes were incredibly good.

The Best Desserts in Town

As I mentioned before, the best place for dessert in Tarpon Springs is definitely Hella’s Bakery. The bakery is adjacent to the restaurant, making it very accessible for an after-dinner sweet.

Hella's bakery

From their great dessert variety, you can try their traditional Baklava, Greek cannoli, cheesecakes, different kinds of pasta (cakes), and….drum roll… THE most delicious Key Lime Pie that we’ve ever tried!

This Key Lime Pie has the perfect amount of lime and a bursting flavor that will have you wanting more.

Hella's bakery key lime pie

Just a few blocks down from Hella’s, right across the Sponge Docks, you will find Taste of Greece Cafe which is a smaller version of Hella’s Bakery.

In Taste of Greece, they carry the same variety of desserts as Hella’s, and the shop is just as picturesque as their main bakery. Meaning, you’ll get all of Hella’s minus the crowds.

taste of greece cafe

Greek Coffee

As for the Greek coffee, I have to say that I’m not a fan. It has a gritty texture and the flavor is just odd.

Greek coffee (ellinikos kafes) differs from regular coffee in its preparation. It is not brewed like most of the coffee you might be familiar with; instead, it is boiled in a specific pot that is called briki.

carlos and I holding two small cups of greek coffee

Since it is boiled rather than brewed, it’s said to be able to extract more nutrients, antioxidants, and health-boosting compounds.

As for Carlos, he thinks that once you get through the gritty part (almost half of it) then the rest of it is good.

We’ll leave it up to you! If you try the Greek coffee in Tarpon Springs, let us know what you think!

posing in front of the scuba diver murals

Final Thoughts

If you’re seeking a laid-back weekend getaway with coastal charm or a taste of Greece close to home, then Tarpon Springs is the ideal destination for you!

tarpon springs florida

You’ll undoubtedly fall in love with every little detail of this charming town, as it’s one of the most unique destinations in Florida.

As for us, with so many things that we have yet to see and do in this Greek town, we’re definitely planning on visiting again.

Have you visited this Greek town on Florida’s Gulf Coast? Share with us in the comments!


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things to do in the sponge capital of the world
Yanitza Ninett
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Yanitza is one 1/2 of the Next Stop Adventures dynamic duo with 15+ years of hiking experience and adventure travel. As a PADI-certified Scuba diver, she's also passionate about ocean conservation. When she's not exploring the great outdoors, Yanitza obsesses over The Vampire Diaries and dreams of traveling to Spain.

12 thoughts on “Tarpon Springs: Exciting Things to Do in the Sponge Capital of the World”

  1. Sea sponges are really cool aren’t they!? It’s really interesting that harvesting them became part of the Greek culture of the area (so now it means you can find plenty of tasty Greek food!)

    The sponge diving tour sounds like a brilliant idea too.

    Reply
    • Sea sponges are super cool and they’re great for the skin, too! I love the ones I got to cleanse my face. I definitely want to try more of the Greek food in Tarpon Springs!

  2. Looks like a great location to enjoy Greek food, however I’ve not heard of Saganaki, being referred to as flaming cheese. Interesting to learn about sea sponge harvesting.

    Reply
  3. I’ve never been to this part of Florida – Tarpon Springs. Would love to explore the Sponge Capital of the World and Florida’s Greek Town!

    Reply

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