Because it grew at dizzying speeds and without a master plan, São Paulo has no single grid of streets but rather a hodgepodge of grids in more or less concentric circles that radiate out from the historic center. This, together with a dearth of easily identifiable landmarks, means it’s easy to get hopelessly lost.
Sitting atop a low ridge and lined with skyscrapers, Av Paulista is the city’s main drag, dividing its largely working-class Centro from tonier neighborhoods to the south. At its western end, Av Paulista is crossed by the corridor made up of Av Rebouças and Rua da Consolação, which roughly divides the city’s eastern and western halves.
To the north of Av Paulista lies what is generally called Centro: including Praça da República and around; the traditionally Italian Bela Vista area (also known as Bixiga); Luz, a newly refurbished cultural hub; the traditionally Japanese Liberdade; and the old commercial and historic core around Praça da Sé and its cathedral, including Triângulo and Anhangabaú.
Extending for about 10 blocks south of Paulista is the leafy neighborhood known as Jardins (the neighborhood’s official name is Jardim Paulista), which has the lion’s share of the city’s higher-end restaurants and boutiques. Further south is the leafy, low-rise and exclusively residential area known as Jardim Europa and also the slightly less exclusive Jardim America. Southeast of Jardim Europa is sprawling Parque do Ibirapuera, while to the west lie the upscale neighborhoods of Pinheiros and Vila Madalena. South of Jardim Europa lie the upmarket bastions of Vila Olímpia and Itaim Bibi, both of which are increasingly important business centers.
The Guia São Paulo is probably the best guide for navigating the city, with street maps, hotel and restaurant listings, and bus lines. It has the clearest presentation of any street directory. Pick one up at any kiosk around town for about R$30.
Tourist offices also offer a free, user-friendly map covering all of the city’s most relevant neighborhoods.