Curated by locals with a keen eye for style, GATEZERO’s city guides are Highsnobiety’s answer to the old school travel guidebooks. Click here for the GATEZERO hub for more travel features.
One does not live in São Paulo, one survives São Paulo. The massive cosmopolis counts 12 million people in the city proper, the largest in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere, and is so densely populated that the wealthy have famously (or infamously) taken to using helicopters to get around the city. But that doesn’t deter Brazilians of all stripes, particularly those interested in art, design, and fashion, from setting up shop in the city, which has historically been a major hub for immigration from the world over.
“I think the São Paulo style is very global, which reflects the massive immigrant population as well as the city’s connections with the world,” says Thiago Visconti, owner of DJ and cocktail bar Caracol. The city remains a microcosm of Asian, African, European and indigenous influences; in one day you could easily sample both the West African-influenced cuisine of Brazil’s northeast, and eat at a traditional Izakaya straight out of Japan.
The shopping scene isn’t quite so global. Thanks to high import taxes, Brazilians have traditionally done shopping for big name brands abroad when possible, and international labels have not always found much of a foothold in the country (though if the recent arrival of Balenciaga in São Paulo’s JK Iguatemi mall is anything to go by, that may be changing). But paulistanos, as locals are known, are resourceful when it comes to crafting a unique style.
“There’s a very strong Black fashion movement at the moment, which we don’t currently have a name for,” says Suyane Ynaya, fashion director for Elle Brasil and co-founder of creative agency MOOC. “But that includes everything from people who manage to put together incredible looks with pieces bought at thrift stores, to those who mix designer pieces with fast fashion.”
São Paulo’s diverse influences can be seen in everything down to its very bones — what it lacks in the natural beauty of its counterpart Rio de Janeiro, SP more than makes up for in architectural splendors, with works by Lina Bo Bardi, Ruy Ohtake and Oscar Niemeyer exemplifying Brazil’s eclectic style. If you’re overwhelmed by what to do and see, simply head to the city’s main artery of Avenida Paulista and see where it takes you.
Galeria do Rock — Punk Rock Mall
Though ostensibly a shopping mall, Galeria do Rock is a far cry from the mall wastelands of suburbia. “I love walking around Galeria do Rock,” says Suyane Ynaya. “You’ll find everything from clothes and sneakers, to tattoo and piercing shops.” Since 1963, the massive shopping center has birthed much of the city’s punk and rock subcultures, and in the 2000s found new relevance in younger audiences as a filming location for popular telenovelas. Amidst the hundreds of stores, you’ll find some of São Paulo’s top sneaker retailers, like Your ID and Maze.
Cotton Project — For the Grown Up Beach Bum
Cotton Project makes clothes for the surfers and skaters who have grown up and taken an interest in art and design. That is to say, cotton tees and slacks in sophisticated colors, with minimal branding and graphics. A small onsite coffee bar sells lattes and beer for those who want to linger at the space in the chic Jardins neighborhood.
The CZO Store — The Athleisure Standard
Run by multimedia creative platform Cartel 011, The CZO Store is the go to for athletic and tech-inspired gear in SP, with a balance of international and local brands, like surfwear from Birden and new styles from Asics. Keep an eye on this space: after more than a decade, the shop is temporarily closed to renovate and reopen in the near future.
Megafauna — Reading Room
Opened in 2020 in the famous Oscar Niemeyer designed Copan Building, Megafauna aims to make a bookstore into a space for reflection, with an emphasis on diverse authors from large and small publishing houses. That philosophy means you’ll find many books on cultural criticism, with an emphasis on Black and women authors. A stop at the onsite cafe, Cuia, is a must, adds Ynaya, for the canjiquinha stew with pork ribs. “Just thinking about it makes me want to cry,” she notes.
Guadalupe Store — Sneaker Paradise
With a decade in the business, Guadalupe is one of Brazil’s premier sneaker destinations, stocking all the latest launches and collabs from Salehe Bembury and New Balance collabs to Patta Air Max 1s. But despite the sneaker boom of the past few years, Guadalupe has expanded methodically, only opening its second store in the upmarket Paraíso neighborhood in 2021. In celebration of its tenth anniversary (and more mature clientele), the shop has recently collaborated with local producers, like the cachaça maker Jós.
Void Lojas Gerais — Where Shopping Turns to Nightlife
As the name, which translates to “general store” implies, Void is a bit of everything. With locations throughout Rio and São Paulo, Void turns shopping into an all day and all night social activity with an elevated beer and burger bar on site, alongside local and international street and skatewear brands like adidas and High Company.
Tabuleiro do Acarajé — A Taste of Bahia
“Everyone from Bahia who lives [in São Paulo] goes to eat acarajé here,” says skater, model and singer Camila de Alexandre. Which is all you need to know to pay a visit to Tabuleiro do Acarajé. The casual eatery specializes in the shrimp-filled black eyed pea fritters fried in palm oil that are emblematic of Brazil’s northeastern cuisine, which even native paulistanos would have to admit is some of the country’s best food.
Maní — Brazilian Fusion All Dressed Up
Chef Helena Rizzo has frequently picked up awards and accolades for her blend of Asian, European and Brazilian ingredients, a perfect encapsulation of Sao Paulo’s global flavors. Go for the tasting menu so you can spend a few hours in the tranquil gravel-filled patio while Rizzo and her team treat you to dishes of moqueca and arrowroot gnocchi.
Bar e Lanches Estadão — The 24 Hour Greasy Spoon
Lanchonetes, as the small fast food joints are known, can be found on almost every corner in a typical Brazilian city, often with the same menu of simple snacks like coxinhas. Estadao has a slight leg up on the others. "Everyone who comes to São Paulo has to come here to try the pernil sandwich,” says Ynaya. The 24-hour joint has earned accolades for 50 years for its pork shoulder sandwich, which is not beautiful to look at but just the sort of food that is as good at 1pm as it is at 1am.
Quito Quito Izakaya — Unfiltered Japanese
There is no larger Japanese diaspora in a single city than in São Paulo, making Japanese cuisine as intrinsic to the city’s gastronomic culture as any classic Brazilian dish. SP is spoiled for choice when it comes to izakayas, but Quito Quito stands out for its fresh and ever changing menu from chef Kaori Muranaka. “She posts everything they’ll serve to her Instagram each day,” de Alexandre says of Murakana.
Caracol Bar — Cocktails and Vinyl
São Paulo has long been known as a meeting point for Brazil’s creatives of all disciplines, from art to fashion to music. When it comes to DJs, the best make a stop at Caracol Bar, where performers from Porto Alegre to Belo Horizonte spin five nights of the week. A sleek terrace and classic cocktails are the icing on the cake.
SubAstor — Beyond Caipirinhas
Perhaps no cocktail will ever topple the caipirinha in representing Brazil on the bar menu, but the bartenders at SubAstor have recognized that the country has a whole host of exotic fruits worthy of a cocktail. The basement bar to the old school Bar Astor uses the likes of cashew fruit, Brazilian plum and açaí to make a new cocktail tradition.
Selina Madalena — Sleeping in Bohemia
“Selina Madalena is located in an iconic neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, with a classic bohemian São Paulo aura,” says Thiago Visconti. Thanks to the presence of art galleries and the famed graffiti alley Beco do Batman, the Vila Madalena neighborhood makes for an easy intro to São Paulo’s arts and culture scene. Selina Madalena matches just the right tone, with backyard DJ sessions for those who would like to mingle, and airy rooms overlooking the hilly neighborhood for those who don't.
Parque Ibirapuera — The City’s Green Lung
With mid-century modernist Oscar Niemeyer buildings, jogging and biking paths, various bodies of water, and revolutionary monuments, the exact style of the sprawling Ibirapuera park is difficult to pin down. But its many elements combine to make one of the greatest urban parks in the continent. A must see is the Museu Afro Brasil, an art and history museum dedicated to Afro-Brazilian culture located, followed by a stroll with a fresh coconut juice.
Vale do Anhangabaú — Central Plaza
The Vale do Anhangabaú is a favorite spot for many of SP’s skaters, Alexandre says. But even for the non-skaters, the plaza has been a meeting point for demonstrations, fairs, protests, and more throughout the decades, making it a worthwhile starting point for exploring SP’s historic downtown.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo — SP’s Art Gateway
While MASP’s collection is perhaps the undisputed leader in the whole of South America for its array of European art, the building itself, designed by Lina Bo Bardi in 1968, is almost as iconic as anything housed inside. The shocking red pillars on Avenida Paulista act as a sort of gateway to both São Paulo’s historic center and more modern neighborhoods to the west. “There is nothing like walking down Avenida Paulista and taking advantage of all it has to offer, even including the eternal debate between heading down to the center or heading to Jardins,” Visconti says.