Things to do Sao Paulo - Understand
Sao Paulo is a gigantic suburban sprawl in Southern Brazil. It's the economic engine that drives most of Brazil's GDP. While random and without easily recognizable landmarks, it's a more cosmopolitan city than Rio de Janeiro
or the jungle towns of Belem
Sao Paulo is located just 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean on a plateau that lifts it 2,493 feet up. This gives the city a stable 75 degree weather pretty much year-round. If that all sounds like L.A. it's no surprise; walking through the nicer parts of Sao Paulo, you will be constantly reminded of L.A.'s better valley neighborhoods like West Hollywood and Pasadena.
There are very few tourists in the city and you'll be the only tourists in almost all places you go here.
This is still Brazil and Portuguese is required, though many 'Paulistas' speak a decent amount of English. Finding English speakers isn't super-easy, but certainly possible unlike most other places in Brazil. Most people struck me as less aggressive and more friendly than in Northern Brazil.
Sao Paulo has great, diverse cuisines, a serious hipster coffee culture and a cool nightlife. Perhaps surprisingly, I went throughout the city for 3 days and never bothered to get any cash. Credit cards are as widely accepted as in the US (if not more, considering the low prices for many items).
Things to do Sao Paulo - Safety
While Sao Paulo is much safer than other Brazilian cities (when talking about the better neighborhoods) it's still Brazil and public safety is just something that's largely forgotten about. As far as Brazilian cities go, this city struck me as decently safe. It's all about neighborhoods during the day and staying inside a car at night. Downtown Sao Paulo is rather scary, but the areas west of it are fun. Pinheiros is good too - it's just that you need to know well which streets (not just blocks or neighborhoods) are safe at what time of day. It's rather easy to figure out if you live in Sao Paulo, but complicated for visitors. For walking, you should stay in the safer neighborhoods. If you want to see the rougher neighborhoods, you should drive and stick to daylight hours.
Things to do Sao Paulo - Get Around
This is a car city and people rely on theirs in town. There are a decent number of bike lanes and rental bikes if that's your thing. Uber
is in town; drivers are super-friendly and the prices are low. I had no trouble navigating the city with the help of Uber
Things to do Sao Paulo - Sights
Sao Paulo isn't exactly rich in major sights, but that might be a good thing. Discovering the neighborhoods is the name of the game in town.
Sao Paulo Downtown/Republica
Sao Paulo downtown is a scary affair, but it has a number of historic buildings and churches to see. It also has some of the finest restaurants in town.
Pizzaria Famiglia Mancini
Pizzaria Famiglia Mancini earns top-notch reviews, but will empty your credit card account in a heartbeat.
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Picture courtesy of Pizzaria Famiglia Mancini
Beluga is a very legit coffee shop hidden in a quiet neighborhood. Awesome small breakfasts and great coffee make this place a winner.
Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (MAC-USP)
This is still an active university building but many of the floors are now exhibition halls. I did not find the art too interesting, but the building was cool, with a great view from the rooftop terrace. There is no entrance fee.
Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM-SP)
I wish that I'd had enough time for this modern art museum. Sadly I did not, but the reviews are great and the entrance fee is under $5.
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Picture courtesy of MAM
São Paulo Museum of Art
The São Paulo Museum of Art houses the old masters and is one of the best art museums in the southern hemisphere.
Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS)
Another museum that I wanted to see, but did not have the chance to. Lesson learned; do not arrive on a Sunday and leave Tuesday if you'd like to see a bunch of museums in town.
This is a fantastic urban oasis and Paulistas flock to it for sports and outdoor recreation and not just on the weekend. It's one of the best places to escape the urban sprawl a bit.
Beco do Batman
Beco do Batman is a small alley filled to the brim with murals from local artists. Expect the (Brazilian) crowds to go wild to get that perfect shot here.
As well as Pizzaria Famiglia Mancini and Beluga downtown, there are many great places to eat in this part of the city.
Things to do Sao Paulo - Eat & Drink
KOF - King of the Fork
King of the Fork makes delicious breakfast toasts and brews fantastic coffee. If that sounds like my kind of place - it is. The staff are friendly and prices are moderate. Plus the outdoor seating area is just gorgeous.
At Coffee Lab, everyone dresses in a proper lab coat for making the best brew. You can take coffee lessons (walk-ins available) or just sit down for delicious coffee and desserts.
Z Deli Sandwich Shop
Although the name suggests this is a sandwich place, it has morphed into Sao Paulo's best burger place. Expect long lines, even at odd hours. The burgers are classic and grilled to perfection. I can't imagine anyone leaving this place not happy.
Bullguer is another modern and hip burger place. Prices are lower here, but the quality is equally as high as Z Deli Sandwich Shop. There's a number of Bullguer outlets all across the city.
Saj Restuarante is a Middle Eastern chain in Sao Paulo. The food looks delicious, but it's rather pricey and I did not get a chance to eat there (yet).
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Picture courtesy of Saj Restuarante
The Little Coffee Shop
The (aptly named) Little Coffee Shop is right in the gourmet ghetto, but this tiny place was stubbornly closed whenever I went by. I hope it is open when you visit - it should be great!
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Picture courtesy of Sprudge
Frida & Mina
Delicious ice cream awaits you at Frida & Mina. I loved the store, staff and ice cream. All the flavors we tried were awesome.
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Picture courtesy of Frida & Mina
Things to do Sao Paulo - Where to Stay
As with many cities, the trendier neighborhoods have no real hotels (like in San Francisco). Instead you have the choice between cheaper chains downtown (scary at night) and neighborhoods on the fringes that are better, but also quite a drive to the trendier neighborhoods.
I found the Grand Hyatt a great place to stay
, though it's a 20-minute ride to the more interesting neighborhoods.