The Cultivist’s Guide to São Paulo

Joey Lico of the Cultivist shares her shortlist of what to see and do in the bustling Brazilian city

The rooftop pool at Unique Hotel boasts unrivaled views of the São Paulo.
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Unique

Not only the most populous city in Brazil but the entire Americas, São Paulo is so business-enormous it’s intimidating. But Sampa, as it is affectionately called, also offers a diverse cultural life that beats to a round-the-clock pulse.

Where to stay
São Paulo had been a bit behind on tourist-worthy hotels until 2003, when the Fasano hotel, designed by Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan, opened in the high-end Jardins neighborhood. Its elegant tower is where I head for a power lunch among the city’s business barons, and it’s a stylish place to stay. Otherwise, you should consider the Emiliano nearby—it’s the one I choose when I visit the city. Designed by Arthur Casas, it is much more youthful in spirit and has a handy helipad to beat the airport-transfer traffic.

Hotel Emiliano São Paulo Cubo Suite. Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Emiliano
Fasano hotel restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Fasano

Locally referred to as “the watermelon” for its crescent shape, and just a short walk from São Paulo’s verdant Parque Ibirapuera, Hotel Unique is one of the city’s techiest. Especially cool is the garage-door-style divider separating the bath from the sleeping and lounging areas in just about every room. The hotel’s rooftop Skye Restaurant & Bar attracts a chic crowd, but the lobby bar is where I stop for a glass of wine—the list is superb and the staff friendly without being invasive.

São Paulo’s Hotel Unique makes a striking architectural gesture. Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Unique

Where to eat
The city is one of Latin America’s top food destinations, so I always encourage visitors to experience as many restaurants as possible and avoid wasting a meal on room service. Without fail, my first stop in the morning is Coffee Lab, in the multicultural Pinheiros neighborhood, where I take the advice of expert baristas to decide what to order. They offer all the standards, like cappuccino and espresso, but what makes this place worth the wait—and there is always a line—are the “micro-lots” of coffee produced on a small scale to preserve their singularity. There are brews here you will likely not find anywhere else in the world, or even the city, again.

Coffee Lab is the place to go for “micro-lot” coffee. Photo: Rogério Voltan
Coffee Tapioca at Coffee Lab. Photo: Rogério Voltan

One thing you should know about São Paulo is that it has some of the best sushi in the world. You will still want to go for traditional Brazilian dishes at restaurants like the sensational Ema (never skip its specials), but if you can get two of the eight seats available at Jun Sakamoto, take them! My food-expert friends say the 16-course omakase is better than you’ll have at most top sushi restaurants in Japan.

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, one of my favorite dinner spots is the very homey Chou, in Pinheiros. You’ll want to grab a table in the backyard after a hot day, and order mezze to share. Not far from there is Carlos Pizza, also an easy standby, especially if you’re in the mood for dessert. They have some of the best in the city, such as the Don Pedro and the Tiramisu Norma.

Chou restaurant backyard area. Photo: Courtesy of Chou

Another great choice for lunch or dinner, if you’re looking to mix with the art and design crowd, is Restaurante Spot, just off Paulista Avenue. Make sure you grab a table by the windows to the left of the entrance so you can dine with a view of the fountains on the small plaza outside.

What to see
It pains me to admit this, but nothing makes me question why I live in New York City like making the rounds of São Paulo’s art galleries, which are primarily located in Jardins, where luxury is not in short supply. Prepare to be awestruck by the beautiful interplay between the gardens and the art at Mendes Wood DM, which represents Brazilian art stars such as Paulo Nazareth and Solange Pessoa, among others. Housed in a 1958 Rino Levi building, Luciana Brito Galeria perfectly marries landscaping and architecture to showcase international artists like Bosco Sodi, Alex Katz, and Marina Abramović. Be sure to ask if you can pop into the wine cellar, which has remained intact through the years. Don’t miss Casa Triângulo and Galeria Nara Roesler, where the art on display and the staff always impress. During my travels, I try to stop for an espresso with their directors: It’s the best way to catch up on the Brazilian art scene from an insider’s perspective.

Luciana Brito Galeria. Photo: Romulo Fialdini

In the Parque Ibirapuera, you’ll find the striking concrete-
and-glass modernist Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM), designed by Lina Bo Bardi in 1957 and completed in 1968, a city landmark that features the best collection of European art in Latin America. After looking at the Picassos, I like to have a local beer and grilled-cheese sandwich at its canteen. From MAM, it’s a short walk through the park past a famous Oscar Niemeyer–designed auditorium, the Auditório Ibirapuera, to the MuseuAfroBrasil, an art and ethnographic museum that highlights the importance of people of African descent in Brazilian culture. Given the great docents, it’s worth asking for a short tour to acquaint yourself with the country’s rich heritage.

Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM). Photo: Courtesy of Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM)
One of the galleries in the MuseuAfroBrasil, which focuses on the cultural contributions of Brazilians of African descent. Photo: Courtesy of MuseuAfroBrasil

Where to shop
To find local designers, you must visit Amoreira, which is owned by cousins Cristina Rogozinski and Fernanda Rezende. Its offerings are well curated, so I always stock up on Estudio Manus porcelains and Amoreira candles as gifts for friends and family.

Brazilians love bookstores, so a trip to São Paulo absolutely must include a visit to the wonderful concept bookshop Livraria da Vila. I always check its schedule of readings and musical performances ahead of time to get a taste of the city’s emerging talents. It is located in the JK Iguatemi luxury shopping center, so you’ll be able to indulge either before or after visiting.

The Godard boutique stands out among the offerings at the luxury shopping center JK Iguatemi. Photo: Courtesy of JK Iguatemi

Cartel 011 is one of the most forward-thinking and hippest spots in town. It’s a multidisciplinary environment in Pinheiros where creative businesses coexist with a retail space (where I buy Brazilian designers like Evoke), a restaurant and bar (get the fried rice balls with red-onion jam), and an art gallery, as well as workstations where you can spot art directors, fashion designers, and tech entrepreneurs.

The FIESP building is a distinctive 1970s São Paulo skyscraper on Paulista Avenue. Photo: Pedro Kok

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