When people think of visiting Florida, they likely think of either the many miles of sandy beaches or the amusement parks clustered around Orlando.
But Florida has a fascinating history and many interesting, smaller places. Places like St. Augustine, Cedar Key and, if you are in Central Florida, Tarpon Springs.
A thriving little community settled by fishermen and sponge divers primarily from Greece, Tarpon Springs is a must-see small town that offers a different Florida experience than what many expect.
Here are a few of the attractions there, as well as a little history.
Tarpon Springs is a small place – about 23,400 as of the latest U.S. Census in 2010 – but it has a rich and colorful history.
The area was first settled by fishermen around 1876. Like many places in Florida, by the late 1800s it had become a vacation destination for northerners looking to get away from the cold winters.
John Cocoris, a native of Greece who had lived in New York City, came to the area in the early 1900s and introduced sponge diving. Soon, divers were coming from Greece to work the waters around Tarpon Springs. By the 1930s, the sponge business was generating millions of dollars in profits.
Although the business is smaller than it once was, you can still see sponge fisherman plying their trade from the docks at Tarpon Springs.
If you are going to Tarpon Springs, you might want to plan your trip around the annual Greek Festival at the beautiful St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It is held on Jan. 6. The event features great food and music as well as the annual casting of the cross into the waters off Tarpon Springs (with divers then racing to retrieve it).
Tarpon Springs also has an annual arts and crafts festival, seafood festival and Night in the Islands events that happen throughout the summer. There’s a little bit for everyone.
There are a handful of places that must be seen if you visit Tarpon Springs. Chief among them are the sponge docks along Dodecanese Boulevard. Here you can see fisherman still working their trade.
There is also the Spongeorama Sponge Factory, which offers a free museum on the history of sponge diving as well as a movie about the town’s history.
Spongeorama Cruise Lines offers a trip into the Gulf to go sightseeing for dolphins (yes, they have dolphins, too) and a trip around the nearby barrier islands, as does the Odyssey Cruises Dolphin Cruises. Viking Gulfstar Fishing offers half-day, 12-hour and 2-day fishing trips into the Gulf.
If you appreciate a good Greek meal, then there are few better places in the U.S. than Tarpon Springs. Many of the best are located on Dodecanese Boulevard along the sponge docks.
Some of the most famous include Mama’s Greek Cuisine, The Original Mama Maria’s (on nearby Alternative Highway 19), Pelican Point Seafood, Rusty Bellies Waterfront Seafood, Mr. Souvlaki and Hellas.
There are too many shops to list, but if you go to Dodecanese Boulevard you will find tons of places to buy a real sponge and plenty of cards, shirts and other items that are related to Tarpon Springs.
Both Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn have hotels in the area. There is also the 1910 Inn bed and breakfast and the Innisbrook Golf Course.
These are just a few of the options in Tarpon Springs, a place that will give you a different perspective on the history of the Sunshine State.