Worth The Drive – Tarpon Springs, Florida

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Tarpon Springs, Florida

Looking for a great day trip to take from Clearwater Beach, Florida? Head to the beautiful Greek village of Tarpon Springs! Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. Enjoy a short trip to Tarpon Springs and experience delicious Greek food, quaint local shops and walks down the sponge docks.

The History of Tarpon Springs, Florida

Tarpon Springs, Florida is a small area surrounding bayous flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. The small area was settled in 1876, and by the 1880s the first sponge business was already founded and the industry quickly began growing. Greek Immigrants began arriving in Tarpon Springs in the 1890s to work in the growing sponge industry.

In 1905 sponge diving was introduced and many of the Greek immigrants became sponge divers. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries of Florida, and the most important industry for Tarpon Springs, generating millions of dollars a year.

In 1947 a large bloom of Red Tide algae nearly wiped out the sponge fields of the Gulf of Mexico. The sponge diving industry took a massive hit, and many of the locals forced to switch industries – often switching to the shrimping industry. The Gulf of Mexico sponge fields slowly recovered from the damage caused by the red tide algae and the sponge fishing industry began growing again. In the 1980’s, the Mediterranean sponges were almost completely killed off by a sponge disease, leading to a boom in the Tarpon Springs Sponge Industry.

Things to do in Tarpon Springs, Florida

I absolutely love visiting Tarpon Springs. It’s very difficult for me to not to take a quick drive up to Tarpon Springs when on vacation in Clearwater Beach, Florida. The atmosphere of the small Greek city is fantastic, especially when walking down the Historic Sponge Docks.

The entire area has delicious Greek restaurants on every block. My personal favorite is Hellas Restaurant and Bakery. Hellas sits right in the historic sponge dock area. Sitting right near the sponge docks and filled with local history and Greek influence, the atmosphere of the restaurant is incredible. And more importantly, the food is incredibly delicious! My favorite things on the menu are Hella’s Original Greek Salad, Saganaki (Opa!), Hellas Gyro and their Mediterranean Stuffed Shrimp. For dessert, I usually grab some baklava to go because I’ve already eaten way too much!

After an amazing (and very large) meal, I love walking for a walk along the historic sponge docks. There are so many really fun and unique shops in that area selling. If you have time, be sure to check out: GETAGURU homemade soap, The Sponge Exchange, Tarpon Sponge Company, and Lori’s Soaps & Sponges!

Tarpon Springs isn’t just local shops and delicious Greek food, it also has great activities for the whole family! You can go for a Sponge Diving Tour! Learn the history of Tarpon Springs and even watch a sponge diver put on traditional inflatable sponge diving suit and provide a hands-on display of the different types of sponges. There’s also a fantastic Aquarium in Tarpon Springs!

Visit Tarpon Springs, Florida

The great location and fun activities make Tarpon Springs a fantastic place for a short day trip or even just a quick trip for a delicious lunch or dinner. On the way to and from Tarpon Springs, you’ll drive past the entrance of Honeymoon Island State Park – a beautiful sunset location.  You’ll also be able to catch a ferry from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island if you’re not up for the walk to Caladesi Island State Park from Clearwater Beach.

You can also connect a day of Kayaking at Crystal River, Florida with a delicious Greek dinner in Tarpon Springs for an incredible day trip from Clearwater Beach that’s totally worth the drive!

Worth The Drive – Crystal River, Florida

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Crystal River, Florida Kayaking

While there are many things to do when visiting Clearwater Beach, there are also other parts of Florida worth experiencing. Many of these places are just a relatively short distance from Clearwater Beach and can make a great day trip! Crystal River, Florida definitely makes the list of places to go if you’re looking for a fun day trip location.

Kayaking in Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River, Florida is located on the Gulf Coast just an hour and forty-five minutes north of Clearwater Beach. (Click here for directions.) Crystal River, Florida has become known as the “Home of the Manatee”. Manatees flock to Crystal River, Florida each fall and spend the winter enjoying the warm water in the area. As the water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico drops, the Three Sisters Springs of Crystal River, Florida keeps the water in the area much warmer. The Three Sisters Springs maintain a water temperature of 72 degrees throughout the entire year! The springs also keep the water crystal clear, hence the name – Crystal River.

The clear and warm waters of Three Sisters Springs not only attracts manatees but also makes the Crystal River area an amazing location for kayaking!

The ideal time to go to kayaking at Crystal River is during late September, through the winter, and into March. This is when the water of the Gulf of Mexico is much cooler, and the warm waters of Three Sisters Springs attract manatees to the area. Three Sisters Springs is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and the King’s Bay Manatee Refuge. During the cooler months of the year, this area becomes home to the largest population of manatees in the world! While the coolers months are when you’re most likely to see manatees, the Crystal River area is a beautiful area for kayaking no matter what time of year it is.

You can bring your own kayaks, or you can rent kayaks in the Crystal River area. When I went kayaking in Crystal River, Florida, I rented from Hunter Springs Kayaks. Hunter Springs Kayaks offers guided tours, kayak rentals, paddle board rentals and kayak/paddle board hybrids for those who are new to standup paddle boarding. Hunter Springs Kayaks is located just a few blocks from the water. This provides plenty of free parking and a very short walk to the water. Don’t worry about carrying your kayak or paddleboard. All rented equipment is transported down to the water for you!

While I haven’t been kayaking in Crystal River, Florida during the Manatee Season (Late September through early April), I still had a great time kayaking through the beautiful area. I was able to see a few manatees and dolphins as I kayaked around the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The entire area truly is beautiful!

After kayaking in Crystal River, Florida, I drove a slower way back to Clearwater Beach. I stayed off the major highway and drove south on 19, giving me the opportunity to stop at one of my favorite places for dinner, Hellas Restaurant, in Tarpon Springs.