I arrived in São Paulo wide-eyed and ready to explore the city that would act as both a layover and launch point throughout the rest of my time in Brazil. As the largest city in the country (and the fifth largest city in the world!), São Paulo can be a tad overwhelming. I knew I needed a walking tour to help me get the lay of the land, and Viator’s Arts, Fashion and Architecture Trends Walking Tour of São Paulo was just the ticket.
I arrived early at our meeting point, Aro 27 Bike Cafe, in order to settle in and check out the gourmet coffee, tea and urban cycling accessories on offer. It was here that I met our guide for the day, Dani Ruano, who is not only the brains behind the day’s itinerary, but also the heart behind Instagram’s @RealCoolSampa account. As a fellow artist as well as a marketing consultant who helps brands keep the pulse on what’s cool, I was sure Dani would lead us head-on into the city’s hippest spaces.
Dani guided us through the winding Pinheiros neighborhood, towards a once-dilapidated public square that is now dominated by avant-garde architecture, film projects and oh-so-much street art. Next, we took a fresh juice break at an outdoor bar complex made entirely of shipping containers. Eager to get the insider gossip on everything from where to get the best açai to the infamous São Paulo vs. Rio rivalry, I felt lucky to have lucked into a private tour.
By now, we were feeling a little peckish, and so we continued on to Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros, a lively market with fresh fruits, veggies and meat on the ground floor and a dining area with small vendors on the second. We made a beeline for Motocó Cafe, a more accessible branch of the highly acclaimed restaurant, Motocó, where we ordered their famous tapioca squares, dadinhos de tapioca com queijo coalho.
We paired our treat with none other than Brazil’s unofficial national beverage, Guaranajá, and it did not disappoint. I later remarked that after six weeks in the country, I never found a tapioca dish that could compare to the one we enjoyed at Motocó Cafe. Insider’s Tip: if you want to enjoy the dish but avoid the long lines, high prices and inconvenient location of the original, check out this spin-off instead!
Next on our agenda was the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, a theatre and rotating gallery that happens to boast some of the most unique architecture the city has to offer. While we only passed through this area, I made mental note of dozens of hip restaurants and bars to return to at a later date.
Our final neighborhood of the day was none other than Vila Madalena, which Dani referred to as “creativity, community and life personified.” This was the most swoon-worthy part of the tour and where I decided to stay for my next foray into the city. Along the way, Dani pointed out several small designer boutiques who specialize in a phenomenon called ‘slow fashion’ — products produced using sustainable materials, ethical manufacturing and thoughtful design.
The sun was beginning to set on the São Paulo skyline as we made our way to Beco de Batman, the city’s street art epicentre. I made the executive decision to keep my camera holstered and opted to soak in the moment while learning about the various artists and their work. We hopped in and out of a few galleries and shops before hailing a taxi for our final stop of the day — downtown (but not before navigating one of São Paulo’s infamous traffic jams!).
Due to these traffic delays, we had to skip the Brazilian dance hall that was on our itinerary, but with jet lag also beginning to get the better of me I didn’t mind too much. We hopped out of the taxi in Roosevelt Square, which Dani explained was the beating heart of the city’s theatre scene.
With the day all but behind us, we trotted into our last stop of the day, a hidden trendy bar for celebratory drinks where we toasted to our wonderful tour. I was pleasantly surprised when Dani presented me with a gift from the tour company — a super cute reusable travel tote.
Everyone expects to fall in love with Rio but I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sao Paulo. By the end of this day, I was sure that I couldn’t possibly love another city more. What better way explore a city then with a super-hip local friend? If you’re São Paulo-bound and don’t happen to have one who lives nearby, fear not — Dani is here.
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