Tarpon Springs is known as the 'sponge capital of the world', and visitors here can see all of the fishing boats, sponge-selling souvenir shops, and maybe even see some of the tarpon in the waterway which gave way to the city being named after them. Downtown Tarpon Avenue is lined with excellent Greek restaurants, with street signs bearing street names in both English and Greek, and thankfully during our quarantine-timed visit there really weren't many people out walking about. Beautiful murals adorn the sides of buildings here, and if you're just taking a quick stroll from end to end, you'll breeze through the downtown area in maybe 15 minutes. But, if you take your time, you can easily spend a very relaxed few hours if you're able to take in some of the local food, take some touristy photos, or just people watch even in the middle of the current pandemic.
There are several paid parking lots around the town, but if you're lucky like we were, there's ample non-payment required parking on the side of the road, so long as your vehicle isn't too big as the roads seemed just a little narrow.
We did find our way to the very highly-rated Hellas Restaurant and Bakery, which offered indoor seating inside a fairly expansive, and socially-distant friendly spacing, with tables adequately set apart from another. We ordered a few of the Greek staples, the first of which being Saganaki (an imported flamed cheese that was set ablaze just beside our table as our server delivered our order). We also ordered the traditional hummus spread, which was served with pita bread. Octopus was very popular across several restaurant menus that I scoped out, but I couldn't persuade my 12 or 15 year old to take the plunge, so we went with a fried calamari which was pleasantly flavored and not oily (the accompanying marinara sauce was really good). My younger daughter ordered a very safe spaghetti, which was a pretty large portion, and she was able to enjoy. For my entree, I ordered the "Hellas Gyro' which is advertised as 'The largest and best gyro in town' (while I wasn't able to compare Hellas' version to others, this beef / lamb gyro blend was very good, and I nearly wasn't able to finish it.) Had we not been in the middle of this Covid time, I would have wanted to take more photos inside the restaurant, as they had some beautiful mosaics on the wall (fortunately, we sat next to one, so check those pics out!)
Despite taking photos in what appeared to be a very clear and sunny day, we were actually weaving in and out of the rain showers, and when the rain ceased, the heat was tremendously intense, even for a July summer day in Florida. Had we had better weather and not been pressed for time (we got here just a little late, the city seemed to close just a bit early, and we needed to get back to Orlando), it would have been really cool to check out more of the antique shops, take more pics featuring the brick-paved roads, and check out more of the art and historical exhibits.
This quaint downtown area was able to make its way onto the National Register of Historic Places, so its got some street cred supporting the uniqueness and authenticity that quickly grew on us while we were there.
As we left the city, we noticed more restaurants just beyond the downtown area. We'll definitely be making a trip back here to check out some of the other restaurants, and hopefully be able to confirm how my gyro from Hellas compares to the others in town!