Many thanks to Heidi Weddle Pepin, our guest blogger today! Thanks for the thoughts!
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My husband, John, and I have ventured into Historic Ellicott City on a number of occasions lately – our five year wedding anniversary as well as for my birthday. Each time was a very different experience, one with my little pumpkin, a few other family members, and one with just the two of us. Each gave me a little insight as to what works and what you should think twice about if you decide to venture downtown.

Historic Ellicott City is filled with ups and downs, a seemingly mountainous climb up and down the streets, as well as endless sets of stairs leading into restaurants, creeping their way up to multiple floors, outdoor seating areas, and a vast array of places that are pretty much impossible to navigate by stroller unless you have multiple sets of hands. For instance, Cacao Lane has great outdoor seating, with a treehouse-like atmosphere set into the back of the restaurant complete with an outdoor bar. But tackling the 100 or so (a slight exaggeration) flights of stairs leaves one wondering why you didn’t just leave the stroller in the car. If you’re looking for a more unusual setting for a date for just the two of you, it’s a little pricey, but definitely different.

If you have the little one in tow, a better restaurant is La Palapa Grill, a Mexican restaurant with pretty decent food. There were several strollers parked at the tables and I didn’t feel out of place with my little pumpkin. There was no question in my mind when I walked in here that there would be a baby changer available, while Cacao Lane seems like they take themselves too seriously to offer that kind of amenity. Beware though, La Palapa definitely caters to the bar scene, so steer clear of that section if you’re having a family night.

Mumbles and Squeaks Toy Shoppe is a gem, carrying an array of educational toys for all ages, including organic, wooden, and classics, as long as you don’t mind navigating the crowded aisles and tightly packed spaces, including the stairwell to the second floor. Yet another example of a bad place to bring a stroller in Ellicott City, but a great place to stop and find a special something for your little one. (Somehow I managed to escape the shop without buying anything. My willpower must be great.) I haven’t taken my daughter into the store as of yet, but I have a feeling it’ll be a favorite once she sets foot across the threshold. The sheer amount of things they manage to cram into this store defies all imagination.

Another great shop is I Love Theatre. It’s an odd combination of theatre and sports memorabilia, but somehow perfect for my husband and I. While he perused the assortment of Red Sox items, I wandered through aisles of Les Mis posters, Drama Geek mugs, and, my personal favorite, Wizard of Oz items of every shape, size, and kind imaginable. If it’s got Judy Garland on it, I’m a sucker for it.

For our date night, we decided to use one of the Groupons that I had purchased and treat ourselves to a little more upscale dinner that we’re used to (unless takeout Chinese food somehow counts.) After a movie in Columbia, we dined at Portalli’s, a traditional Italian restaurant offering an assortment of courses, including appetizer, pasta, salad, and fish or meat. We decided to mix it up a little, splitting the Antipasta, which I have to say that I would definitely treat myself to again. The fresh ingredients made for a delicious starter. My husband went for the Caprese salad, which he raved over, and I tried the Seasonal gnocchi, which that night consisted of sausage and spinach with gnocchi. Tasty. Very tasty. My last course was a disappointment, as the monkfish didn’t have the flavor or consistency that I was looking for, but John said the sauce on his lamb shank was absolutely delicious. So, with mixed results, we decided that we might come back but stick to the top half of the menu and definitely go without our little pumpkin. The crowd in Portalli’s is a bit eclectic, with couples obviously ready for their prom night, families with older children, and an assortment of adult-centric groups.

All in all, Ellicott City can be the perfect choice for a date night or an outing with the family. I’ve only managed to delve into a small piece of it here and am looking forward to visiting the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, the Diamondback Tavern (which I’ve heard great things about), and bringing my daughter back to see their variety of free attractions and, of course, the toy shop!

Image courtesy of city-data.com.