Tarpon Springs (5) - Orlando / Florida Guide
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We had just dropped the kids off at Busch Gardens in Tampa and decided to spend the day on the Gulf Coast. Instead of heading for the more popular resorts of St Peterburg and Clearwater we drove further north to a jewel of a place…. Tarpon Springs.
Admittedly I had done a bit of background research on its sponge diving exploits but knew little about its history, culture or location. The best place to start is down at the Sponge Docks where there is something of interest for everyone, with plenty of parking lots available, each charging around $3 a car.
On the waterfront Spongerama is a great place to learn a little bit about Tarpon Springs. It has a free museum that describes the history of the sponge industry and illustrates how the community benefited from Greek sponge divers and their families, who at the start of the 20th century, brought their Mediterranean heritage with them.
Why not take a relaxing sightseeing cruise down the river, enjoy a lunch or dinner cruise, or take a half hour sail into the Gulf of Mexico and watch a diver harvest natural sponge from the seabed. You can also visit the 120, 000-gallon salt water aquarium and the Sponge Exchange where the sponge catch is sorted and graded before being sold on to the wholesalers.
Also in the Sponge Docks area are numerous Greek restaurants and coffee houses together with more than 100 shops, many of which are selling a range of delightful sponge products.
A mile south of the Sponge Docks is downtown Tarpon Springs, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This area is dominated by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a replica of St. Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul, but also includes a mix of lovely antique shops, art galleries and speciality shops. We even came across a quintessential Old English Tea Shop set in an old Victorian style mansion, which served the most perfect afternoon cream tea! !
Historic, picturesque, and unspoiled, Tarpon Springs is an absolute delight and well worth a visit for a day. . . if not longer.
The time went so quickly but we did manage to enjoy a thoroughly pleasant drive back to Busch Gardens along the coast road to Clearwater and then across the Tampa Bay Causeway. The kids were in raptures about the white-knuckle rides but we had enjoyed thrills of our own……. is this a sign we that we are perhaps getting old?
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