Walking into a 20-million person city is little intimidating but with our good friend and resident Paulista, Marcelo, as our guide, we saw the sweeter side of South America’s biggest metropolis. With a wild abundance of restaurants (12,500), bars (15,000) museums (110), and the craziest soccer scene, we had our hands full with good times but the day that sums up São Paulo culture and beauty was our day in Ibirapuera Park.
Set in the middle of the traffic-ridden urban sprawl, they call the massive city park "The Green Lung." To celebrate São Paulo's 400th year, the city commissioned Brazilian all-star architect OscarNiemeyer to design the park in 1951.
Sao Paulo doesn't have the charming architecture of the colonial cities like Salvador, but famed Niemeyer still puts the city on the map for a number of stellar spaces. Governor Garcez Pavillion is one of his many buildings in the park and throughout the city.
Niemeyer's Ibirapuera Auditorium is one of his most recent and magnificent projects (the 105-year old is still kicking). The red tongue-like entrance (top) beckons visitors in and the interior is just as seductive with high gloss floors and a sweeping red ceiling that swirls into a staircase.
The Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) is the most notable museum in the park (there are about five). The gift shop had some particularly good design finds too.
We didn't necessarily plan on going to the Museu Afro Brasil but with free admission, we couldn't resist popping in. Two hours later we were still roaming its four floors, completely impressed with the quality of the displays and range of topics--from tribal art to soccer memorabilia.
This art exhibit of early Afro-Brazilians taking on Portuguese dress and culture was stunning.
At the foot of the park under the famed obelisk along the highway, a college drum troop practices some beats. Drumming is so much a part of Brazilian culture, but to see this resounding session set up under the hush of traffic seemed so practical and so São Paulo.
For a little street culture in a park chalk full of museums, go to the hill behind MAM and watch the dozens of skateboarders launching themselves down the road and looping back up for more.
From the museums to the landscapes to the people watching, Ibirapuera Park is the best place to get bite of Brazil's Big Apple.