It was the first Portuguese permanent settlement in the Americas and the first capital of the Captaincy of São Vicente, roughly the present state of São Paulo. Established as a proper village in 1532 by Martim Afonso de Sousa on what was then the Porto dos Escravos ("Port of the Slaves"), operated by three Portuguese colonists who trafficked on slaves captured by allied tribes, São Vicente is titled Cellula Mater (Mother Cell) of Brazil for being the first organized town in the country. The first City Council of all the Americas was democratically elected and established in São Vicente on August 22, 1532.
Today's city is located on the western half of coastal São Vicente Island, being mostly a bedroom community for the larger and wealthier neighbouring port and commercial city of Santos on the island's eastern half. A small north-south hill range separates for the most part the two cities' urban areas, but they are contiguous in the north and on a narrow beach strip in the south. São Vicente also has a small fishing industry in its portion on the mainland, where there are a few small settlements.
A suspension bridge linking the island to Praia Grande on the mainland was first constructed in 1914; a second link, the Mar Pequeno Bridge, was opened in 1981. São Vicente is linked to the capital city of São Paulo by the Imigrantes Highway and to the southern coast by the Manuel da Nóbrega Highway.
It is the birthplace of soccer player Robinho.