São Paulo is a lovely city in so many ways, but perhaps most of all in its diversity of food and drink, all delicious and all cheap by U.S. and Western European standards. I had a gastronomical and mixological treat and all within 24 hours.
24 Hours In São Paulo: An Insider’s Guide
I was so thankful to have my friend along for this journey, who practically lives in Sao Paulo on the weekend even though he officially lives in the USA. The day began in the evening. Although we arrived in the morning, both of us spent most of the day in our rooms getting work done.
From the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo, we took a taxi across town to Bar da Dona Onça where we would have dinner.
The menu is varied, but I had to try a steak in Brazil and I was absolutely elated that I did. Despite the sauce (usually a huge detractor but pleasant here) the steak was cooked a prefect medium rare, tender, juicy, and the pasta a nice accompaniment. How much? About $13.
This was my first time trying a Caipirinha (cachaça, sugar, lime), a cocktail I am now fond of. We also tried Bolinhos de espinafre (spinach dumplings)as an appetizer, which were very tasty.
As we walked outside after dinner, I admired Edifício Copan (Copan Building), which houses the restaurant on the ground floor.
The following morning, we returned to the same neighborhood in central Sao Paulo for coffee at Por um Punhado de Dólares, literally a “fistful of dollars.” The coffee was superb and I even took a bag home with me.
Then the walking tour began. I had no prior orientation of Sao Paulo, but greatly enjoyed the varied mix of architecture that construct the skyline of the city center.
At one point, we passed through a bustling street market. I was advised to keep my phone in my pocket, but note that the streets were jammed (and this was a Friday – weekends are apparently much worse). I love the murals throughout the city.
We stopped at the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo (most refer to it as Mercadão or big market) and had a walk inside. Warning: you will be offered samples of fruit. Just say no. While I’m not calling every fruit dealer a crook, the scam is that you try a sample and then are charged a massive amount of money after enjoying it. Just look, don’t touch. The touts are very aggressive.
There are also a number of little restaurants inside which look delicious and have printed menus with prices.
It’s also a great place to stock up on spices and herbs.
Next, we stopped at the São Paulo Cathedral (See Cathedral) which has a stunning Neo-Gothic edifice and resembles many of the ancient cathedrals in Europe. But this is not an ancient building; construction began in 1913 and did not finish until 1954, with the towers not completed until 1967. Prior to the present cathedral, a church on the site dated back to 1589.
Outside the cathedral was a street preacher screaming at the top of his lungs to a crowd that had formed around him:
A statue of Jesuit priest José de Anchieta had very strong imperialistic overtones (which I include because I don’t think it will last…)
We continued our walk, enjoying more great architecture on our way to Liberdade, the Japanese district of São Paulo.
Liberdade is home to the largest population of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan. Once known as Campo da Forca (Field of the Gallows), it was the area reserved for the execution of slaves and convicts (did you know that slavery did not end in Brazil until 1888, becoming the last country in the western world to do so?). Death was considered the only avenue to Liberdade (liberty) for the slaves.
The Japanese began to arrive in 1912. I loved pedestrian traffic lights and lantern-like street lights. I also loved the little gardens and even the Haikai stationery store (it felt like I was in Tokyo!).
My friend stopped for some caldo de cana (sugarcane juice) at the outskirts of the district.
We continued onto Bar Boca de Ouro by Uber, located in the Pinheiros district. We arrived at 2:00pm, just as it was opening for the day. For next few hours we just sat and talked, enjoying a leisurely lunch and delicious cocktails. While speakeasy may not be the right term, there is no sign on the door, just a number (1121). The small bar inside is intimate and cozy, but head downstairs to a recently-opened garden.
I don’t think you can go wrong with a single cocktail on the menu here. For lunch I had sanduíche de copa lombo desfiado com picles de cebola roxa (shredded tenderloin with red onion pickles) and it was a fabulous sandwich. My friend tried the Acelga picante (spicy cabbage, sautéed in sesame oil, with Korean pepper and scallions).
If you stop here, I particularly recommend the Chaparral cocktail which includes coffee liqueur and Paratudo Raízes Amargas (bitter roots)
Just to sit under the trees and enjoy the gentle afternoon breeze was so relaxing.
Next up, we took an Uber to Ibirapuera Park. First we stopped at O Monumento às Bandeiras (Monument to the Bandeiras). Constructed in 1921 by Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret, it marks the entrance of Ibirapuera Park.
Ibirapuera is the most visited park in South America and spans 158 hectares. It is a beautiful park that takes elements of Central Park in New York, more formal English gardens, a bit of Japanese influence, and a distinctly Brazilian touch.
From the park, we walked back toward the Pinheiros district for our dinner at Lupe Bar y Taqueria.
The guacamole and tacos here were simply amazing. We arrived at 7:00pm when it opened and had the restaurants to ourselves (Brazilians eat late). All tacos were delicious, but the fish tacos were particularly delicious.
But it was an amazing 24 hours that helped me to fall in love with the beautiful Brazilian city of São Paulo. I look forward to returning. I’d do the same itinerary over again in a heartbeat.