The city of Tarpon Springs, less than 30 minutes north of Clearwater, is known primarily for two things: sponges and Greeks. And a sojourn to the small city—population 23,000, per 2010 census data—will provide a relaxing getaway and an immersive look at a Mediterranean culture. You can “do” Tarpon Springs in a couple of laid-back days, because the action is entirely contained within a few walkable blocks.
Downtown Tarpon Springs, which includes five buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, is a quaint time warp of vintage architecture—its lone gas station, by the way, is called Sparta. It’s worth a visit to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (36 N. Pinellas Ave.): With its frescoed ceilings and the sunlight glinting off its elaborate plate-glass mosaics, it’s Tarpon Springs’ answer to the Sistine Chapel.
Home to the famous “weeping” icon of St. Nicholas, the chapel is ravishing enough to make even nonbelievers consider dropping to their knees.
The area’s historical museums, like the 1883 Safford House (23 Parkin Court, 727/937-1130) and the Heritage Museum (100 Library Lane, 727/937-0686), keep weird hours, shuttering completely on weekends. Day or night, weekday or weekend, the area never seems especially buzzing, a sleepy quality that adds to its charm—even though, to be fair, the town could use a cultural infusion.
Most of Tarpon Springs’ activity is contained within the handful of blocks on Dodecanese Boulevard, known as the Sponge Docks District. Greek businessman John Cocoris emigrated to Tarpon Springs in 1905, discovered the 9,000 square miles of sponges lining the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the city’s sponge-diving industry.
For more on this Greek town, pick up the March/April issue of Boca Ratonmagazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.