São Paulo was incredible city to photograph. For six weeks straight I found myself waking up, grabbing my camera, and hitting the streets of this fascinating, monster of a city. In this series of photographs I attempt to capture the beautiful, grittiness of São Paulo.
The Most Underrated City in the World
Follow Walker as he takes you on a tour of our favorite neighborhoods, restaurants and bars in São Paulo. Explore the alternative side of Centro, the diversity in Liberdade, and discover what makes São Paulo such a great city.
Directed, Filmed and Edited by Nick Neumann
Hosted by Walker Dawson
Heres a list of the various places and food that appear in the video. For a more complete list of our favorite spots check out our post on São Paulo’s top five neighborhoods.
- Galeria do Rock
- Praça Roosevelt
- São Paulo Museum of Art
- Livraria Cultura
- Caos Bar
- Chicano Taqueria
- Os Gêmeos Exhibit
- Beco do Batman
- Empório Sagarana
- Weekend Massage in the Liberdade metro station
- Sunday Street Market (takoyaki & yakisoba)
By Walker Dawson
With 31.5 million people in the combined metropolitan area, São Paulo is an impossible city to describe in only a few short words. To call it the New York of Latin America wouldn’t do this megalopolis justice. Three times the size of Paris, this city would take several lifetimes to get to know. São Paulo is expensive and crowded, but any city this large will naturally have its negative aspects, but if one is prepared to look beyond these, the positives far outweigh the negatives. São Paulo is a city of distinct neighborhoods and diverse lifestyles intermingling everyday on the subway and in the crowded streets, at the numerous bookstores, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Economically, Brazil is one the most unequal countries in the world, yet it is this exact inequality that makes São Paulo so complicated, yet so intriguing. The poorest and the richest of Brazil interact in close quarters, creating a complicated fabric from which emerges Brazil at its most creative and most intellectual. On par with New York and Paris, this is truly one of the world’s greatest and most captivating cities. Many people overlook São Paulo for the beaches of Rio, or the jungles of the Amazon, but they are missing out on a city that has the ability to humble even the most seasoned traveler.
#5 Barra Funda
Barra Funda is an up and coming industrialized area northwest of downtown, characterized by art galleries and music venues of all types. The slightly rundown streets exude a type of Williamsburg-before-it-was-cool vibe. In 5 minutes, you can walk from D-Edge, one of São Paulo’s trendiest night clubs to Boteco Pratododia, where an alternative crowd dances to Caribbean salsa and other Latin beats late into the night . Not only is Barra Funda filled with an insane array of nightlife options, it is also a center for up and coming artists. Many of the industrialized warehouses are becoming independent studios such as Galeria Fortes Vilaça, which recently hosted an exhibition on the world famous São Paulo graffiti duo, Os Gemeos. Make sure to see what’s on display and check it out.
São Paulo is a city of immigrants and that diversity can best be seen in Liberdade, a densely packed neighborhood of Japanese restaurants, Chinese markets, and narrow, hilly streets that light up beautifully at night. Brazil has the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan, and the majority live in this neighborhood. The best way to discover Liberdade is to attend the wonderful Sunday street market, where you can buy the Japanese delicacy, takoyaki, a ball of octopus, shrimp, tempura flakes, green onion and ginger fried in fresh cream. No one should leave São Paulo without having a meal at Aska, a cozy, Japanese ramen joint, that has super cheap prices (extremely unusual in this city), delicious food, as well as a long wait. A São Paulo must!
Centro is the historic heart of the city. Most Paulistas dismiss the the neighborhood as dirty and crime ridden, but if you are able to see beyond its decay, it is a fascinating area full of pedestrianized streets, 400 year old churches, steep hills with narrow, bustling streets, open-air markets, neoclassical and art deco architecture, and enough energy to impress even a hardened New Yorker. One of the most interesting aspects of Centro is its alternative edge. Most downtowns in North America are strictly about business, yet here in São Paulo, there are numerous alternative art galleries, and underground bars where skateboarders, weed smokers and anarchists rub shoulders with businessmen getting off of work. Be sure to check out Galeria do Rock, a five story mini mall dedicated to punk and skater shops, tattoo parlors and musky record stores.
The area around 25 de Março is considered the largest commercial center in all of Latin America, and is one of the best places in the city to see São Paulo’s diversity. Chinese and Korean merchants sell electronic goods to Bolivians and Paraguayans, while Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese folks sell clothes and produce to every other race under the sun. One location that perfectly encapsulates the alternative-meets-business feel of Centro is a bar called Papo, Pinga e Petisco, a bohemian joint that wouldn’t be out of place in the most intellectual corner of Greenwich Village. Take a seat in the back behind the pool table, where the smell of African incense and marijuana mix with the aroma of dusty vinyls, books and dark Paulistânia beer.
#2 Vila Madalena/Pinheiros
Vila Madalena and Pinheiros are two trendy, residential neighborhoods adjacent to each other, located southwest of Avenida Paulista. While there aren’t many specific sights to see, its the best place in all of São Paulo to eat and drink. The coolness factor in these two hoods is unmatched anywhere in Brazil, and is on par with the the most hip neighborhoods of New York, Paris and London. Take a stroll down Beco do Batman, an old alleyway that has been converted into a space highlighting local graffiti artists. You won’t go wrong pulling up a chair at any bar in Vila Madalena/Pinheiros, but be sure to start with Mercearia São Pedro, which is part bar, part restaurant, part bookstore and part video store; definitely one of the coolest places in this city. Another great bar is Empório Sagarana, a perfect place to sample every type of cachaça imaginable.
For food, be sure to eat at Meats, an American style diner serving incredible burgers such as the Big Apple, a juicy patty topped with crisp green apples and a honey-wasabi glaze. Wash down your meal with a Guinness and Jack Daniels milkshake. For a slightly lighter meal, check out Kebab Paris, one of the best kebab places this side of the Atlantic. You also won’t go wrong at Feed Food, a stylish organic restaurant serving all types of world food in a greenhouse setting. For coffee, check out Coffee Lab, where baristas in lab coats serve aeropressed coffee for maximum flavor and kick.
#1 Bela Vista/Paulista
Avenida Paulista is the beating heart of São Paulo. While some might disregard the area because of its endless sea of skyscrapers, you only need to pause for a moment to observe the chaotic energy unmatched anywhere else in Brazil. As the sun sets and rush hour begins, artists line the street to sell their work, while musicians of all ages play for the teeming masses of businessmen. In one minute I witnessed a band play Creedence Clearwater while a separate group of Anarchists and Feminists blocked traffic while marching down the middle of the street. Along Avenida Paulista, relax in a bean bag at Livraria Cultura, the largest bookstore in Brazil.
Adjacent to Avenida Paulista is Bela Vista, whose main thoroughfare, Avenida Augusta, is full of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, comedy clubs and music venues. The neighborhood was once inhabited by punks, skinheads, lesbians, gays and hippies, but today vestiges of the old neighborhood are mingling with business folks who trickle off Ave Paulista in search of drinks, dinner, and more. The contrast between the alternative original nature of Augusta and the recent wave of gentrification is a fascinating. When in Bela Vista/Augusta, be sure to check out Chicano Taqueria, a new California style taqueria serving up mean burritos, tacos, quesadillas and San Francisco’s finest, Anchor Steam beer. Afterwards, hit up Caos Bar, an eclectic biker bar sporting Americana kitsch and serving up great drinks while you lounge on antique couches.
By Chris Moreno
People in this metropolis move on a schedule, they listen to a melting clock that keeps on ticking, and they ride a subway that’s so brand new it hasn’t even developed it’s own unique stench. It just smells like freshly printed plastic. I’ve been sucked into the toxic bloodstream of South America’s largest city. I wake up, put one foot out the door, and am swept away in a river of new cars, old people, middle aged office buildings, and aging infrastructure.
I have overcome the language barrier by becoming a very good actor. Basically everyone I have spoken to in the last month is convinced that I understood them very well; in fact so am I and that’s really all that matters. I should get an Oscar for my performance in “Paying for Dinner” and “Asking for Directions to the Night Club:Part 4”.It’s really amazing how much you can say by not saying anything at all. A smile convinces someone that you agree with even the most ridiculous notion, a head nod here and there will encourage someone to go on, even a grunt does wonders for making your partner go into detail about some experience years ago under a moon you will never see.
Even though I don’t understand a damn word these Paulistas* speak, I play my part perfectly. Laughing when a joke is implied, and frowning when a question is asked. Every now and then I pretend to think really hard about the answer. I’ll mutter things like “tuna sandwich” and “gasoline monkey” until they figure it out themselves, then everyone laughs, smokes a cigarette and has a fantastic evening dancing to whatever is playing. A Brazilian likes someone who will listen, and trust me, I can listen. I’ve made a lot of buddies down here, all with only a handful of words, and some choice herbs.
In between beers and bars where classic rock lives on, I have started teaching English in downtown São Paulo, right off of Paulista Avenue, the Broadway of Brazil. I’ve got experience teaching people how to speak English from my last job, although, this time, I’m not helping a drunk guy pronounce his girlfriends name properly after closing the bill with her card. I’m helping a Brazilian say the day of the week, and I like things much more this way.
The days that I work are irregular, I cover the teachers that are sick, or on vacation for the weekend. I have heard great things from my students. They seem to like our videos of protests and my lame jokes about American politicians who get caught in scandals. I’m doing my best to make sure when they travel to the USA, they can make fun of the right people, and hey, who doesn’t love a foreigner who can laugh with you about corruption? The next generation of Brazilian students are going to speak great English, refer to everyone and their grandmother as dude, and will know why the air smells so funny when the clock strikes 20 minutes past 4 in California.
São Paulo is a city where you can find anything you want, for half the price; unless your lazy and you went somewhere expensive. Break that comfort zone, or break the bank; whichever your more comfortable with. Go to places with lots of ethnic diversity, venture down those dirty alleys that are leading you downhill where the shadows are drinking and laughing at you. If you want to really experience this city, you’ve got to chase everyones demons, and try everyones vices. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a few new ones.
Liberdade, Republica, Centro; these are all neighborhoods where Asians, Italians, Jewish, and Lebanese people have settled and mixed so beautifully with Brazilian culture. Have you ever seen a Japanese person whip up some fantastic Ramen, and then cuss profusely in Portuguese because he’s so damn busy? I have, and now I want to live in Japan, make Ramen and cuss in Portuguese. Traveling makes you want to do weird things like that. Every time I go to a new neighborhood in this city, I want to trip somewhere else in the world.
There are many kinds of trips we take in life. The trip to the store, the trip that leaves a mark on your face, the trip with your friends to south america, the trip to cabo with the girls, and, if you’re lucky, the trip from a potent portion of something someone made in a lab (you hope it was a lab at least).
I didn’t realize this until I lived in São Paulo for a month, but there is a new kind of trip that we’re all on. If you’re living in a big city, you’re hooked on a drug, and you’re tripping as we speak. If you’re laying in bed and you can hear rubber tires squeaking on asphalt, if you see grime clogging up the gears of trains on their way to work, if you have an appointment at 5 and you leave by 3:30 because of traffic, if you see graffiti on nearly every empty surface, if homeless people sleeping in front of banks is a normal fixture of your neighborhood, if concrete is comfortable; you, my fortuitous friend are on a sneaky little psychedelic named after whatever metropolis you are currently dosing yourself with.
That’s what your rent is. It’s a bill for that trip you take when you put one foot out your door, and your swept around from 9 to 5, then shuttled back home in a little machine with wheels. Welcome to the modern day my friends, where drugs are legal, and cities are psychedelics.