Living, as I do, in the heart of suburban Tampa, seemingly a world away from the beaches and attractions, it can be difficult to remember why I live in Florida. When this happens, I like to take a little road trip to the nearby town of Tarpon Springs.
Located about an hour away, Tarpon Springs is nestled among the bayous and inland waterways of the Anclote River, just off the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not easy to get here although I always find it worth the drive. Nowhere near an interstate, the roads into town seem to always be under construction (I’ve been coming here for over ten years) which keeps out some of the tourists and limits development. Even so, it’s usually crowded on weekends, with a mixture of locals and tourists.
Tarpon Springs is a place that’s hard to define. Originally settled in the late 1800s, the main industry was sponge diving. Greek divers were recruited from the Dodecanese Islands of Greece, and today this small city of just over 20,000 boasts the largest population of Greek-Americans in the country. Combined with Tampa suburbanites, day trippers and vacationing snow birds, there is an interesting mix of people crowding the narrow streets surrounding the Sponge Docks.
The Sponge Docks are were most of the action is. After the sponge harvesting industry was wiped out by a red algae bloom in the late 40s, this area was converted to shops, restaurants, museums, and a landing area for tourist boat excursions. The area retains much of its Greek character with fabulous Greek restaurants and Baklava stuffed bakeries lining the streets. Local tourist gift shops are full of everything to do with sponges and traditionally embroidered clothing. The odd artisan gift shop can also be found selling homemade soaps or jewelry.
In the bars, you’ll find people are pretty laid back, exuding a faint air of aging hippies. Which I like. A bit of a Key West vibe. And who can argue? They have great seafood, great location, great atmosphere, and they’re not expensive. Sit back, relax and enjoy a fantastic oyster shot!