Atlanta tours guide natives as well as visitors

Tours aren't just for tourists.

A quick look at the jaunts available in the metro area reveals that many of them appeal to Atlantans who already know the town very well.

Natives almost outnumbered out-of-towners, for example, on a recent ramble through Woodstock's eateries, sponsored by Atlanta Culinary Tours, showing that it's never too late to start exploring your own back yard.

"It's a great way to taste all the restaurants in one night and not spend a million bucks," said Carlie Maridakis, sampling flash-friend Gulf shrimp while seated at an outdoor table on Main Street.

Maridakis, a Woodstock resident, was accompanied by her husband Victor, and family members who came from near (Roswell) and far (Vero Beach, Fla.) to try out Woodstock's newly-minted nightlife.

They encountered a town that has changed radically in the last few years, as restaurants, condos and coffee shops have popped up.

Organized outings can help locals catch up on recent changes in their territory, or just reveal aspects of the city they've ignored for years. "Most of the people who are local always leave the tour saying 'I didn't know that about Atlanta,'" said Kristie Carter, city operations manager of City Segway Tours.

Carter's company sends five groups a day through downtown and Midtown on those curious gyroscopic chariots. In the fall her tours capitalize on Halloween traffic and flaunt the spookier side of the city, adding a Legends and Lore tour of such disaster-associated locations as the former Winecoff Hotel.

The annual bicycle tour of artwork sponsored by the Living Walls organization will probably attract out-of-town participants, due to the number of visitors drawn to the group's annual conference, taking place Aug. 15-19. But Atlantans will want to bookmark the Google map guide to the 20-or-so public art projects created by this year's participating artists, because seeing them all at once will be taxing.

Last year "was a ridiculously long ride," said programming director Lucy Herrera. "We were trying to hit all the walls."

The map will let locals return for a self-guided visit, but many tourists enjoy the camaraderie of group activity. Several of the nine folks touring Woodstock's culinary delights on a recent Wednesday remarked that they liked the guidance provided by the servers and owners who told of the history at each spot.

In Woodstock, many of those restaurants were new, and the history was more like current events.

"I've been here before, but this tour kind of makes it come alive for me," said Pasquale Luigi DeRenzo, a software engineer and Woodstock native, tucking into arugula, pesto and prosciutto pizza as the wood stoves burned brightly at the one-year-old Fire Stone, just off Main Street.

The tour began with caprese and gyro wraps at Ipp's, an Italian restaurant owned by the Ippolito family that also celebrated its first birthday last month. Also on the itinerary was a crawfish tostada at the Freight Kitchen & Tap, java at the Copper Coin coffee shop, and a stop under the oaks at the Century House Tavern.

The evening was warm, and Neel Sengupta, owner of the Freight Kitchen, offered some advice about summertime food, extolling the value of a little red pepper to open up the pores. "It's one way to fight the Georgia heat," he said. (Sengupta's family is from West Bengal, and he knows about heat.) "The other way is cold beer."

Atlanta Culinary Tours offers tours of restaurants in nine different locales, including Decatur; Inman Park/the Old Fourth Ward; Roswell; Norcross and Sweet Auburn. Reservations are available online only: www.Atlanta-culinary-tours.com

City Segway Tours of Atlanta sends tour groups through downtown and Midtown Atlanta five times a day. The tourists ride aboard nimble two-wheeled contraptions called Segways. Each tour includes a 20-minute orientation to help tourists learn to ride the Segway. 250 Park Ave West, Atlanta, 404-588-2274; citysegwaytours.com/Atlanta

Living Walls Conference 2012 will send a group of cyclists on a tour of the outdoor street art projects created by 26 female street artists around the city. The tour is free; 2-4 p.m., Aug. 19. Starting place, Lotta Frutta, 590 Auburn Ave.

; livingwallsconference.com/