A day trip to the Sponge Docks is a must do for anyone visiting Florida’s West coast.
Nestled on the west coast of Florida, about 30 minutes from downtown Tampa, you’ll find the historic Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs. This is an absolute must-do when you are in the area, and has become a big draw for locals and visitors alike.
The area is still an active working sponge dock and maintains the title of Sponge Capital of the World. When you come down for a visit you will be surrounded by the local Greek community, which has roots in the area since the early 1900s. The Greek influence can be seen in the street signs, the local restaurants, and the souvenir shops.
The Greek community settled into the area between the late 1800s and early 1900s. They came over from Greece to bring the new diving equipment to the Gulf waters. With the advancements in diving suits, they were able to spend longer underwater, and more time harvesting sponges.
Plan to make a whole day of your visit, you are going to want the time to enjoy a boat ride, grab a meal, and browse the shops.
A Day on the Sponge Docks
The main shopping at the Sponge Docks can be found on Dodecanese Blvd. You’ll find shops like the Tarpon Sponge Company, Spongeorama, and The Sponge Factory. All of these stores offer unique and local gifts, including the sponges harvested right out of the Gulf. Our favorite shop was Lori’s Soap & Sponges which sells handmade soaps that smell amazing, and have a sponge right in the bar. The shops along the docks are a great place to pick up a practical and unique souvenir from your trip.
As you make your way along the waterfront, you’ll hear quite a few offers to head out on the water for an afternoon of sightseeing. If you are looking to spot some dolphins, there are a couple of great options including Spongeorama Cruise Lines, Odyssey Cruises, and Island Adventure Dolphin Cruises.
But if you are looking for a real authentic historical experience, make your way to the St Nicholas Boat Line. They are still operating an original sponging boat. The trip is about 45 minutes long, and takes you out on to the Anclote River for a diving demonstration. Donning the original gear from the early 1900’s, the diver jumps off the boat into the water and brings up a fresh sponge, much like they would out in the Gulf. This was one of our favorite experiences during our day at the Sponge Docks.
After a day on the waterfront and you’ve gathered up all of your souvenirs from the shops, it’s time to grab an authentic Greek meal. Set your sights on one of the many delicious restaurants on Dodecanese Blvd, and treat yourself to a gyro, or chicken souvlaki at Yianni’s or Hella’s. If you are more interested in the catch of the day, head down to the end of the block and get a table at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill.
But, save room for dessert. Located just next to Hella’s Restaurant is Hella’s Bakery. With an astonishing assortment of traditional and Greek pastries, you will definitely find something to satisfy that sweet tooth. We grabbed a baklava cheesecake, 10/10!
We had such a great day at the Spong Docks and can’t wait to go back for another trip sometime soon. A day trip to the Sponge Docks is a must do for anyone visiting Florida’s West coast, so be sure to add it to your list!