We found the town of Tarpon Springs, Florida (just 30 mi/50 km northwest of Tampa), with its Greek-immigrant influence, an absolutely delightful place to visit for a day. This was once a huge center for sponge diving, and a few sponge boats still operate from the harbor.
Tarpon Springs isn't big, and there may not be all that much to do (and some of the focus on sponging may even be a little contrived, now that natural sponges are no longer the local economic engine they used to be), but we loved the harbor and its riot of little shops and weather-beaten boats. You can spend an afternoon there and feel like you've seen something out of the ordinary.
Be sure to take a 30-minute boat tour to get a glimpse into a sponge diver's life. Back on land, the Spongeorama Exhibit Center documents the history of the industry with films and exhibits. The small shops along the harbor sell sponges, and you'll find some good antiques shops, particularly on East Tarpon Avenue.
Don't miss the chance to sample some Greek food in one of the city's restaurants. If you have time, see the very pretty Byzantine St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. On 6 January, Tarpon Springs hosts the annual Epiphany Celebration, a traditional Greek Holy Day fete with national costumes, dancing, feasting and an exciting competition where young men dive for a cross in Spring Bayou.
Also in Tarpon Springs, see the Unitarian Universalist Church, which is home to the largest collection of paintings on public display by George Inness Jr., son of the famous landscape painter George Inness Sr. The church is open to the public October-May.
Note: Florida sustained widespread damage during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Travelers should investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.
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