Escape to the Beach

There's a lot more beach on São Paulo's coast than our coverage could possible cover. In addition to the beach towns we feature, consider escaping the city and digging your toes into these additional sands, several of which won't be quite so crowded.

Santos

Though it never receives a star for cleanliness, Santos is the closest beach to the city of São Paulo, just over an hour away on a good traffic day. Due to oil money, it's a fun town in its own right, with lots of great bars and restaurants. Locals consider Boqueirão, between canals 3 and 4, to be the city's best beach. Santos' beachfront garden, clocking in at 5335m, is in the record books for the largest in the world.

Expresso Luxo (www.expressoluxo.com.br) buses to Santos leave frequently from Terminal Rodoviário do Jabaquara in São Paulo (R$26.65, 1¼ hours).

Guarujá

With its fine beaches along the stretch of coast closest to São Paulo, once-glamorous Guarujá has suffered from overdevelopment. Still, if you can’t get further afield, it retains some charm as a quick getaway – even if concrete towers line the beaches, which get packed with weekend day-trippers. Surfers should note that there are good waves along Praia do Tombo and Praia do Éden (reached by a downhill trail from the road to Pernambuco or Iporanga beaches) that are a good bet for beating the crowds.

Ultra (www.viacaoultra.com.br) buses to Guarujá (R$35.10, 1¼ hours) leave throughout the day from Terminal Rodoviário do Jabaquara in São Paulo.

Boiçucanga & Around

The laidback surfer town of Boiçucanga makes a good base to explore the stretch of coast that runs almost due west from São Sebastião. The variety of beaches, many backed by the steeply rising Serra do Mar, is remarkable, and there’s good surf at nearby Camburi and Maresias, which have also developed into major party towns. Juqueí is popular with families.

Boiçucanga is reached by bus from São Paulo Tietê (R$55.50, four hours, five daily), Guarujá (R$34.30, two hours, 7:45am, 1:45pm and 7:45pm) and São Sebastião (R$140, 40 minutes, 7am, 1:30pm and 7:45pm) with Litorânea (www.litoranea.com.br).

Ilha do Cardoso

As wild as it gets in São Paulo state, this ecological reserve near the state's southern border with Paraná offers gorgeous natural pools, waterfalls and untouched beaches, and is home to only 400 residents and no cars. Dark sands and brownish-grey sea don't sway the nouveau hippies, who love these beaches due to their isolation.

One Valle Sul (www.vallesulservicos.com.br) buses per day leave São Paulo's Barra Funda bus station for Cananéia (R$86.33, five hours, 2:30pm), from where a number of private operators offer a boat service to the island along the waterfront. Prices vary according to group size, but expect to pay around R$20 to R$30 per person (four-person minimum). You can also take a Dersa (www.dersa.sp.gov.br) ferry at least three times a week (R$55.30, 1½ to two hours). You can also reach Cananéia from Iguape (R$27.90, 1¾ hours) via Pariquera-Açu.

Free SP!

There's no sugarcoating it: Brazil can be expensive depending on its currency fluctuation, and São Paulo is the beast of the bunch. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun on a shoestring budget. In addition to free admission on Saturdays at Museu Afro-Brasil and Museu de Arte Moderna, our favorite freebies include:

Minhocão

Minhocão (officially Via Elevada Presidente Costa e Silva), a 3.4km elevated highway from downtown (Rua da Consolacão near Praça Franklin Roosevelt) west towards Barra Funda, is a free-for-all for cyclists, skateboarders, walkers and runners between 9:30pm Friday and 6:30am Monday. The nickname comes from a mythical earthroom-like creature that slithers around Central and South American forests.