São Paulo, over 20 millions inhabitants, maddening traffic and an ocean of buildings: it’s my original home, the place I lived for the first 25 years of my life.
Nowadays I go often to visit my family and friends, and I’m proud to say that I’m a local-tourist — I enjoy the city vacationing, but knowing its secrets, its history, its goods and bads.
So I figured I’d write this post to help other visitors to do São Paulo the way a local would.
- Get into a PADARIA (there is one on every other corner): sit at the bar and order a pão na chapa (bread with butter done on the grill) and a Suco de Laranja (OJ is always freshly pressed in all padarias and most restaurants in Brazil, make good use of it). Another snack for any time is pão-de-queijo, the beloved national cheese-bread. Please note: Brazilians don’t usually have eggs for breakfast.
- Go for a run (or walk, or cycle)! Weather is always good (read: warm enough), and it’s a great way to feel like a local. Check out here parks and where to run in São Paulo.
- Go to Vila Madalena – night AND day
Vila is known for its vibrant nightlife. Perhaps is now too well-known… but, isn’t that what always happens? A secret gem always falls into the everybody-does-that category. Nonetheless, it remains being (and it always will be) my favorite place in São Paulo. I go during the day, for lunch at Pira Grill and shopping at Farm flagship store (there’s an outlet on the top floor) and other cute pop-ups around Rua Harmonia. There are lots of hills, so wear something comfortable.
- Check out Instituto Tomie Ohtake
If you are a walker, you can combine Vila Madalena with a visit to this beautiful building in Pinheiros, which offers free entrance and interesting exhibitions. The structure itself is a modern addition to the city, and it instantly became a design landmark in 2001.
- Pretend to be fancy at Oscar Freire St
Oscar Freire street, between Melo Alves St and Nove de Julho Ave, is the paulistano’s Rodeo Drive. Better than that: the advantage of this open-air shopping center is that the brands are mainly national, so if you are looking for some authentic clothing or shoes (Brazilian shoes are famous and great. Check out Schutz and Melissa), this is the place to be. Even if you just leave with a pair of Havaianas from their flagship store there.
- Benedito Calixto Saturday Afternoons
Actually, if you are around Teodoro Sampaio St, check out this square any day; it has cool permanent shops for home decor and local craft clothing. And if you are in São Paulo on a Saturday afternoon, it is a mandatory destination. The traditional antique fair also offers food, music, the cutest handcrafts that make the best souvenir gifts, and the true paulistano vibe. Walk around, sit down at the buteco da esquina (a nameless corner bar) for a 750ml bottle of Original (or Brahma, Skol, Itaipava) beer, or wait for a table (while having a caipirinha) for lunch at Consulado Mineiro restaurant.
- Find a reason to go to Paulista Avenue
Paulistanos say that Paulista is like a love story: starts at Paraíso (heaven) and finishes at Consolação (consolation). Both are subway/neighborhoods names, and Paulista actually start in one and finishes at the other.
Paulista Ave is one of the most famous spots here since it’s considered to be the city’s financial/commercial center, and Sao Paulo is the heart of Brazil’s businesses, so… well, let’s just say Paulista Avenue is symbolic. You’ll see celebrated architectural buildings such as the elevated glass container of MASP (Art Museum of Sao Paulo), the famous staircase and the concrete panel of TV Gazeta (or Casper Libero Foundation, one of the best communications university in the country) and the weird pyramidal shape of Edifício FIESP (Industry Federation of SP State).
However, unless you go to MASP (check out their exhibition calendar) or another event (Pride Parade happens in August), you’ll just be walking around and bumping into the crowds on the street. So I’d find a reason to cross it, like taking the bus to/from the airport (the stop is in front of Ibis Hotel) or you’re on your way somewhere, or you want to try the real Brazilian wax – this is always my excuse, I go to a great place called “Pello Menos.”
- Get lost downtown
São Paulo’s ‘Centro’ isn’t necessarily like most downtowns around the world, ‘the place you wanna be.’ It used to be dirty and full of homeless, and still kind of is, but 15 years ago the city moved a lot of public offices down there to bring some well-dressed people to the area and revitalize it, and now it is safer to walk around, during daytime. Plus it has some beautiful buildings from the Coffee Barons era, so it is worthy to go. Check out Praça da Sé, the ‘ground zero’ or where the all road’s km signs refer to; the Estação da Luz, a gorgeous train station; go for a drink at Terraço Itália and grab the best of national fares at Bar da Dona Onça, located at the bottom of famous Copan Building.
Sao Paulo is a massive city, there are billion other places to be, to eat, to do. I just scratched the surface here, but it is, in my opinion, the classic bests. I hope you can make good use of this info. Please do leave your comment here with other recommendable experiences, and feel free to contact me for any questions you might have. I’ll be happy to help.