LIVING IN THE CITY: New Mom Sarah Piha Savors Life on Cortez Hill

She weighs the convenience and excitement of downtown San Diego against safety, infrastructure and homelessness issues

“Living In the City” is the San Diego Sun‘s feature Q&A with downtown San Diego residents. It’s a way to get to know the city by meeting the people who live here. This is an ongoing series.

Name: Sarah Piha

Location: Cortez Hill

Personal deets: Originally from Leominster, Massachusetts (home of Johnny Appleseed and the plastic pink flamingo). Lived in downtown San Diego for seven years. My husband, Yuda, and I just had a baby last year!

Pets: Two cats, Capone and Matilda.

Reason for moving downtown: It was a perfect place for my Springer Graphic Design company. Being from a smaller town, downtown San Diego originally seemed like “the big city” to me.

Working from home: My office is on Seventh Avenue. I’m also able to work from home or on the road.

The iconic El Cortez sits atop Cortez Hill.

Best aspect of your current location: Cortez Hill is a lot quieter than other areas of downtown. My old apartment in the Gaslamp Quarter shared a wall with the former nightclub Fluxx.

Worst aspect of your location: Cortez Hill buildings are a little older and don’t always have features as nice as newer ones.

Best reason to live downtown: Even if you’re in the house or the office working all day, you still feel like you’re in the midst of everything. There’s such a hustle and bustle to enjoy looking out your window–cars, people, animals, construction. There’s always something going on.

Worst aspect of living downtown: The homeless problem has gotten out of hand. Especially the higher number of homeless people who are dangerous to others. You’re having a good day if you go on a walk and don’t see meth or crack being smoked, a needle going into an arm or a naked body part.

Time Out Sports Tavern on Broadway.

Bar: I’m biased. My husband owns Time Out Sports Tavern. It has an all-American sports bar vibe. There are 29 rotating craft beers on tap. The food is delicious. There are pool tables and lots of TVs. Yuda put his blood, sweat, and tears into this bar. It’s the type of place where you can feel comfortable and chill out.

Dinner fave: Davanti Enoteca has Latvian cheesy bread that’s to die for. Great atmosphere with indoor-outdoor dining and a courtyard in the back. It’s easy to pick up takeout there, too.

Grocery shopping: Mission Valley, Hillcrest and Sports Arena areas. The two major grocery stores downtown are pretty unsanitary so I try to stay away–unless I need one item right away.

Breakfast spot: The Sammich House. I get their smoothies (Rocket Fuel and Breakfast Smoothie) and breakfast sandwiches. Everything is fresh and healthy. It’s owned by the Mansoor family—a mother and her three sons, and they’re the nicest people on earth. Friendly service, consistently delicious food and smoothies and a real community feel.

Lunch place: I eat lunch at The Sammich House, too. I also head over to Little Italy Food Hall. Sam the Cooking Guy’s Not Not Tacos is my favorite. His other restaurant concepts are a lot of fun, too.

Sammich House on Seventh Avenue.

Safety: It’s important to be on alert, have a clear path and know the area you’re walking. Don’t keep valuables in your car. Break-ins are all too common. In Cortez Hill, we have the CHARG (Cortez Hill Active Residents Group). Members do a great job keeping the community informed, solving problems, and keeping in contact with the police and community officials.

Walking/driving ratio: Lately, I’m in the car a lot more than I used to be. Probably 80-percent driving and 20-percent walking.

Visitor parking: It’s actually a lot easier to park than you’d expect! Just be persistent.

Resident parking: I used to get my car stuck in my old parking garage all the time. It was an on-going joke that my boyfriend (now husband) would have to come rescue me.

City infrastructure: We just had two major water mains burst, leaving us without water for about 24 hours. (Video, above, shows the intersection of Tenth Avenue and B Street on the night of November 21, 2021.) Roads closed, electricity in some areas went down, streets cracked and one got a large sink hole. It was a total mess.

Scooters: I’m kind of clumsy, so scootering isn’t my thing. People seem to have a blast on them. My dad got into a few scooter accidents when he lived out here. Used carefully and put away properly they’re a great thing. Scooters add alternative transportation, fun and jobs (repair, putting them out and collecting them, etc.).

Padres Games: I’m not a big sports person, but I go to Padres games here and there. We went for the Jewish Day at Petco Park, where a bunch of different local Jewish communities sat together and enjoyed the game.

Favorite memory: I met my husband downtown. He proposed to me on Broadway.

Best insider tip: There are good locals’ restaurants and bars outside the Gaslamp Quarter. They may not glitzy, but they’re excellent and genuine, with shorter waits and less pretentiousness. SDSun


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