When I travel, I love to zero in on what I call the real places of the world. In Tarpon Springs, in West Central Florida, about 30 miles northwest of St. Petersburg I found a small, but extremely vibrant, authentic Greek community. Although this little village has definitely been discovered, it has its roots in history. It dates back to the 1880’s when Greek sponge divers and their families immigrated here to carry on their sponge diving occupation. Today, Tarpon Springs is know as the sponge capital of the world, and you’ll find plenty of sponge related activities here—from sponge diving exhibitions and a museum and a deep-sea fishing boat where you can see sponge divers at work, and lots of gift shops. But my daughter and I love this quaint Mediterranean village for its array of authentically delicious Greek cuisine.
To get an overall view of this little town of about 20,000, start your visit at The Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, where you can watch a Smithsonian video about the fascinating history of sponge diving in Tarpon Springs. There are plenty of souvenir shops here, but, unlike many other places, these shops are authentic: Greek people selling Greek merchandise.
Tarpon Springs has many lively festivals and events through out the year. But if you plan your visit for January 6th, Epiphany Day, a Greek religious celebration of the Baptism of Jesus, you’ll be able to attend the celebration at The St. Nicholas Cathedral and, down at the water, witness enthusiastic Greek boys as dive into the water for a cross.
Look closely and, as these competitive swimmers wait for the signal to dive, you’ll probably see more than one cross himself with his right hand—and, with the left, make certain an opponent doesn’t get between him and the water. I haven’t been here for this festival, but as a staunch supporter of women’s liberation, I wonder if the girls are given the opportunity to try. After the dive, the town comes alive with festive parades dancing, celebrating and, of course, plenty of tasty Greek food.
When you come to Tarpon Springs at any time of the year, come hungry…real hungry for here you will find an array of Greek foods that would make even the Greek Gods happy. I’ve eaten in the Mykonos Restaurant twice. Family owned and operated, it offers a vast array of delicious Greek foods. You can treat your taste buds to such authentic Greek delicacies such as and Soutzoukakia (ground beef and Greek herbs, charbroiled on a skewer), Taramosalata (fresh caviar spread), and patatokeftedes (pan-fried Greek potato patties). Accompany these with delicious Greek village bread and pastries from their own bakery, and you’ll think that you’ve been transported to Greece.
After all that food, take it easy for a while by going on a sponge diving boat ride with the St. Nicholas Boat Line, where you can witness an actual sponge diving exhibition. St. Nicholas Boat Lines in the oldest established sponge diving exhibit in the western hemisphere. You’ll board a U. S. Coast Guard Certified Vessel and then take a half-hour round trip boat cruise through the historic sponge docks of Tarpon Springs. Through the narration, you’ll learn about the history of sponge diving and then have a demonstration of sponge harvesting as you watch a diver in traditional diving equipment jump, weight himself down and jump overboard. For more information contact For more information visit tarponsprings.com.