Bruce Bouley

photo: Bruce Bouley

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Overview

Spurred by tales of vast sponge beds in the Gulf of Mexico, the sponge divers of Rhodes and Halki in the southern Dodecanese emigrated to Florida to harvest the wealth of the sea, settling in the community of Tarpon Springs, founded in 1882. Along the sponge docks and marinas lining the Anclote River, gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs is an outpost of Greece in America, where shopkeepers converse about politics in their native tongue and men sit outside the cafes sharing coffee over tavli (backgammon) like they do in the islands of their birth, and yes, you can get an ouzo here. Held January 6, the Epiphany celebration is thought ...

Spurred by tales of vast sponge beds in the Gulf of Mexico, the sponge divers of Rhodes and Halki in the southern Dodecanese emigrated to Florida to harvest the wealth of the sea, settling in the community of Tarpon Springs, founded in 1882. Along the sponge docks and marinas lining the Anclote River, gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs is an outpost of Greece in America, where shopkeepers converse about politics in their native tongue and men sit outside the cafes sharing coffee over tavli (backgammon) like they do in the islands of their birth, and yes, you can get an ouzo here. Held January 6, the Epiphany celebration is thought to be the largest in the world, with more than 25,000 attending the traditional dive for the cross marking the beginning of the Orthodox New Year. Shops and restaurants with authentic Greek imports and cuisine line Dodecanese Boulevard along the waterfront, centered on the historic Sponge Exchange, the marketplace built in 1907 for divers to sell their wares. You’ll still find sponges here and at the Sponge-orama, a kitschy but fun museum with the largest selection of natural sponges in the world. Nearby, a historic residential community with graceful churches and B&Bs surrounds Spring Bayou. Not to be missed is the more traditional American-style downtown district with its antique shops and restaurants, the northern terminus of the 34-mile Pinellas Trail, which attracts bicyclists from around the country.

Sandra Friend
About the Expert

Sandra Friend has written 12 books about Florida, including the Explorer's Guide (Countryman Press) series to Florida.

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Winter and spring