Among the most charming of Florida’s offerings is it’s small towns. From Central Florida to the Keys, Northern Florida to each coast, small town Florida offers everything from great shopping and dining to outdoor activities to B&B’s ready to make your romantic, family or individual vacation a dream.
I cannot remember the first time I experienced Tarpon Springs, but it was long ago with my family. When Assistant Laura and I came to Florida a decade ago I made sure that it was the one town I took her to. We weren’t in the state long, but I had remembered the charm and people of this lovely little community. So much seemed the same that day as we walked from our parking spot along the main street of town in the area known as the Sponge Docks.
White walls were countered with the rich blues you picture in your mind’s eye of Greece. Shops carried soaps and shells, t-shirts and sponges and restaurants served Greek foods made by Greek cooks. That day was cemented in my mind as what I’d known in my childhood, and what I’d rediscovered as an adult.
Since we’ve returned to Florida we’ve only had the chance to make it Gulf-side for this one visit to Tarpon Springs, this time having to cover much more of Florida for here in the blog. We chose a lovely early winter day, warm and slightly overcast, but still as perfect as it gets here in the Sunshine State. We made the crossing to the Gulf, then up a little farther North, then off onto roads that no longer seemed familiar. So much has changed in a decade – approaching Tarpon Springs is nothing like I remembered.
And yet it was all still exactly the same – somehow. We turned onto the road I remember, rounding the inlet-pond that would wind its way back to the Gulf. Now though we turned again, into an area I hadn’t known existed – more of a downtown that had grown, expanded, rejuvenated over the years. It’s not the Sponge Docks, but more of an area for travelers to discover. Had we known we would have planned more time, but we didn’t so… onto the docks.
There it was, ahead, the turn onto that main street again, the parking lot as open an empty gravel lot as I recalled. Ahead buildings white with blue trim, a gentle reminder that you were stepping into a culturally specific town dedicated to preserving its charming and family-friendly roots. Nothing seemingly changed.
We parked this day behind one of the original dock businesses and quickly moved along the sidewalk, trying to take it all in; the boats along the river-inlet, the buildings housing shops and restaurants and bakeries. This day would find some street fest slowly reeving up. No one seemed to know it was going on, so deep into the day the crowds remained low. I wondered how anyone coming to Tarpon Springs for the day would find themselves drawn to buying a carnival style sandwich or snack when the streets were lined only feet away with the most luscious and tempting Greek delights.
We wandered past the historic sponging boats still used to collect live sponges from the depths of a seabed created with them in mind. Blessings from above kept a tragic oil spill at bay and no oil reached these valuable harvest grounds; all is right here.
We ducked into a bakery, smells as tempting as a dangled present on Christmas morning. Mouth watering while trying to make a choice only made things harder. We decided to skip this treat for later, choosing to move on to find a place for lunch first… dessert would wait… for now.
We watched a boat ride in lazy style – likely to hold a wake at bay, though looking more like an old gentleman out for a stroll – and found it charming and fun to watch sea birds play and call with each other overhead. We somehow tuned out the carnival atmosphere and found its presence a companion, keeping from our path the crowds that normally would have been competing for shop space, yet still, so few people on this lovely Florida day.
We found the Spice and Tea Exchange and I took my many photos and we chatted with the owners. We walked on. We watched with envy the group of Harley riders who’d come to town to enjoy the day, their steady steeds lined up in a row to wait for the trip to resume. We spied a giant sting ray overhead call to all that they could see live versions of its self and others at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium.
At the end of the common area we turned along another street just to see what we might see. More working docks than tourist trendy, we’d entered a more “real” area of Tarpon Springs and delighted, kept on moving. We found side street after side street, walking among locals now, watching the kittens play and eat at the stern of a boat, fishermen trying to repair the engine for another days job. We stepped into a fish shop and beheld the vast catch offered as locally fresh.
Then returning to town we enjoyed our lunch, we grabbed some dessert treats, we walked through shops with shells and soaps and t-shirts and we moved on… dessert in tow we found our way to the local beach, Howard Park and Beach. The sandy white beach, the blue skies as vast and sparkling as the Gulf that stretched out like a shimmering blanket. We walked though the waters, we watched more birds, we took more photos and we laughed at the amazing good luck of it all – what a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a day is Tarpon Springs.
The desserts pulled from the car, we pulled up a bench in the white sand along the Gulf’s coast and we ate. It really was the best picnic I’ve been on.
And when we left we were tired and refreshed, energized and charmed and we vowed to each other and ourselves that we would not let nearly as much time go by before we returned…
Tarpon Springs is a wonderful day trip from Orlando, easily reached along the Gulf coast, and perfect for even longer stays. We look forward to our return…
Please enjoy just some of the images I took that day… and do visit our Flickr page – RoriTravel - to see even more…