Absorbing Tarpon Springs

24 Nov

The Sponge Docks of Tarpon SpringsTarpon Springs is what I consider the treasure of West Central Florida! Located on the northern Pinellas County coast just south of the Pasco County line, this is the place to go if your into shopping, fishing, great food, or simply strolling to take in what life might be like in a small Greek fishing village. I’m not talking about the part of Tarpon bisected by US Hwy 19. That’s not the real Tarpon Springs. To get the feel of what Tarpon Springs is, just head down to the docks…the famous Sponge Docks. 

Since I work in real estate, a highlight of visiting Tarpon Springs is taking a charter boat from the docks down the Anclote River to the Gulf of Mexico. The homes along the river banks are breath-taking. I’ve always thought it would be a great market to tap into. We haven’t because no one ever wants to leave once they move there I suppose. Anyway, I was describing the houses along the Anclote and all throughout the neighborhoods west of Alt Hwy 19 to one of our agents. He had a rather confused look on his face so I asked if he had ever been to Tarpon Springs. Most people associate the community with what they see along US Hwy 19 which is
Living in Tarpon Springs, FLpretty much a continuation of the same strip malls and chain restaurants you see along the entire stretch of the highway from the Skyway Bridge to the county line.

He said of course he had but he didn’t find it all that impressive. I asked him what part of Tarpon he was referring to? The Docks? The tiny historic downtown? The Meditteranean homes? He said he didn’t know what I was talking about because all he saw was a big lake! Of course, he was referring to Lake Tarpon which is a large lake and recreation area east of Tarpon Springs and west of Odessa. He thought that was the extent of Tarpon Springs so he never ventured any further. That’s why I consider it such a hidden treasure. Most people who aren’t from this area don’t even know its there.

Greek Dancing Downtown Tarpon Springs

Best known for its Greek Heritage extending back to the 1880s when Greek sponge fisherman arrived to call the area home, the Sponge Docks attract most people to Tarpon Springs. The Docks stretch the banks of the Anclote River from Alt Hwy 19 along Dodecanese Boulevard. Once the heart of commerce which was dominated by the abundant live sponge population in the Gulf waters, the docks are only a shadow of what they were at the turn of the century. Today they are more like a short version of Duval street in Key West, lined with shops bargaining for the tourist dollar, museums, art, an aquarium and relics of the sponge fishing industry. That’s not to say they still don’t harvest live sponges. They do, but not to the extent of days gone by. You can still see the working sponge fishing vessels parked along the river bank. Nearly everywhere you go, someone is selling sponges. These aren’t the ones from the super market. These are the real thing, right from the ocean (though maybe from another ocean than the Gulf) in nearly every shape and size imaginable.

Sponges aren’t the only sea life that draws people to Tarpon Springs. The adventurous can take a deep-sea fishing charter into to the Gulf of Mexico for either a full or half day. My friendsAboard the Ms. Milwaukee and I used to frequent the Ms. Milwaukee. Unfortunately, I believe she fell victim to the recession. Her rival, The Two Georges, is still there. Well, I guess they’re not rivals anymore. We gained quite a sense for the competitive nature between the captains of each vessel while they raced to see who could get out of port first and who came back with the most fish. We always told ourselves we won. I’m sure they told themselves the same thing. It really didn’t matter. It was always a great day!

If adventure isn’t your thing, a simple stroll up and down Dodecanese Boulevard is worth the trip . You don’t have to buy anything to spend a great afternoon at the Sponge Docks. But since you are there, it would be pointless not to try the authentic Greek cuisine. The bakeries are poison to anyone on a diet. But they are simply irresistible. Fresh Baklava is everywhere. Try the Spanokopita! It’s Fillo dough filled with spinach, feta, onion and egg. Yum! For dining, there are many places to choose from. You can’t go wrong with Hellas where I  had one of the best Greek salads I’ve ever had. Get the Saganaki (flamed cheese) for an appetizer. The pork-kabob entre was amazing! Even better, the atmosphere matched the food. It was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in years. I won’t go to the docks without going to Hellas.

Boy holding the Epiphany Cross in front of the St. Nicholas Greek Othodox Church

If you have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon and you want to get out to enjoy the gorgeous Florida weather we normally experience from November through April, I can’t think of a better place to spend time than at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. Whether it’s culture you’re looking for, a good drink to cap off the weekend or great food, you can’t go wrong. It’s fun. It’s romantic. It’s Florida and IT’S VERY GREEK!

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