Vila Madelena is the most traveler-friendly neighborhood for leisure visitors and is home to the majority of hostels (there's also a solid concentration around the residential neighborhoods of Paraíso and Vila Mariana off the southeastern end of Av Paulista). The city's top boutique hotels sit in the leafy, upscale district of Jardins, while many top-end business hotels line Av Paulista, Av Faria Lima, Av das Nações Unidas and Parque Ibirapuera.
São Paulo's only true traveler-like quarter is the bohemian bairro of Vila Madalena, 6km west of Praça da Sé. It boasts a bonafide hip hostel scene in addition to being the city's longstanding cradle of artsy boutiques, cutting-edge galleries and boisterous nightlife.
If you opt for Centro, the areas surrounding Estação da Luz train station and central downtown are rife with cheap hotels but also crime and prostitution – use extreme caution and don't walk around at night. Stick to the safeish immediate area around Praça da República.
Be wary of lower prices luring you to neighborhoods such as Belém, Mooca and Parada Inglesa – they might be cheaper, but you'll be a long haul from the action and wiil be sleeping in the city's two least desirable zones, North and East, which are more prone to crime.