I’ve heard about Tarpon Springs, but never been there. Being a tourist destination of the fifties and sixties, it was always eclipsed by such heavy hitters as Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and Bush Gardens. I had the same feelings.
I’ve seen in many times on placemats and on destination maps, but never had any enthusiasm to go there. I’m glad I remedied that mistake.
Tarpon Springs is a mix of the typical and the unexpected. The first things you will notice are the long blocks filled with restaurants, bakeries, and souvenir stores. Men, be warned. There is a lot of shopping to be had here. Bring some comfortable shoes and possibly something to read for the time you get store weary. There are a lot of stores here!
And that’s not to say the stores are bad. No. In fact, there are many interesting items that will grab your attention:
There’s the modern swag such as T-shirts, baseball caps, and coffee mugs.
You can instead choose the retro, fifties style, humorous, chotskies such as a mini toilet ashtray and wind up plastic toys.
Different styles of clothing, sandals, and shoes are available to over stuff your suitcase.
Expensive artwork and handcrafted jewelry stores are an enjoyable difference.
Sweets are around every corner in the forms of candy, ice cream, fudge, pies, or other baked goods.
Besides all these, you will find an amazing array of Greek and Greek Orthodox gifts. I never knew this, but Tarpon Springs has a huge Greek heritage. It’s wonderful. There are Greek bakeries, Greek shops, and Greek restaurants. If you want to find good Greek cuisine, do yourself a favor and check out Mama’s. Their food is excellent and the atmosphere is friendly. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself stuffed on their baskets of bread before your food comes out. It’s that good. I have no idea how Mama’s makes any money on meals when you could just spend all day eating their delicious baskets of bread.
Once you are stuffed like a Gyro, you can relax a bit with some ice cream or snow cones, or even a nice cigar.
Did I mention that Tarpon Springs has a multitude of cigar stands and shops full of a multitude of hand rolled cigars? They’re definitely a good way to take a break.
The Greek culture is strong throughout Tarpon Springs, but there’s one thing even stronger; the sponges.
Natural sponges and sponge diving are the historical and economic backbone of the town. Just as other sea farers, sponge divers risked their lives harvesting their products from the sea.
Death and danger came in many forms including suffocation, over pressurization, and shark attacks. Human made dangers also affected sponge diving and made Tarpon Springs into the town it is today. During the Spanish American war, the sponge divers of the time were afraid that if they sailed to their usual port in the Keys, they would be attacked by the Spanish Navy. To avoid this risk, they changed direction and made Tarpon Springs their home port. Without the Spanish American war, sponge divers might still be landing in the Keys to make their sale instead.
The constant threat of danger to the divers and the crew has built a strong family community in town. You can see it as you tour the streets and eat in the restaurants. Workers from stores down the road and owners of restaurants greet and talk to each other like cousins on the holidays. Artists and merchants discuss ongoing projects more like friends than customers and clients. You don’t have to search hard to see this, just be aware of what’s going on. It’s plain to see that every in town knows that their prosperity is linked together and that they are there to help each other out. It’s a rare treat in today’s make-it-or-break-it business mindset and is worth keeping an eye out for.
Tarpon Springs may not be the newest or most glamorous place to visit when in Florida, but it is still a gem worth seeing.