It was the Fall of 2021. The new Consul General of Portugal in San Francisco, Pinto was charged with promoting business and tourism between California, the world’s fifth largest economy, and its seeming geographical double. “I arrived when people wanted to travel. Covid was gone. Portugal was this great new destination– like the California of the eighties.”

During his first months, visitors to the Consulate in Pacific Heights would see visa applications stacked nearly to the ceiling. “In the next three years residence permits or temporary study permits went up 400 percent,” said Pinto. Techies and entrepreneurs “no longer needed to be in Silicon Valley,” he explained, and the direct 10-hour SFO-LIS TAP flight beckoned. Tales of hidden surf spots, retro cable cars, that twin red bridge, friendly locals, and the Mediterranean climate proved irresistible. Not to mention a hot tech scene supported by Lisbon’s Web Summit conference.

“There's this discovery of Portugal by people essentially from northern California,” said Pinto. “This ‘new’ European destination with great security, and a cool west coast vibe. But for this romance to be sustainable, it needs to translate into mutual benefits.”

Forging alliances

Pinto’s strategy – then and today – is to treat California as a nation, and to forge strategic alliances and partnerships with Portugal. He came from a family of diplomats – a grandfather and two uncles served. His motorcycle racer dad taught him to take risks. California was a teen romance. One blissful, “Endless Summer” he studied English at Pepperdine University’s international program, surfing at nearby Malibu. He earned his master’s in international relations from Johns Hopkins, then served his country in the United Nations and European Union. On Saturdays, he’d grab the 6am train at Penn Station to surf out on Long Beach.

He never forgot California and spotted the opportunity to connect the US’s West Coast with Europe’s West Coast - Portugal. “Three hundred and fifty thousand people in California check Portuguese heritage on the census. And you have Silicon Valley, where the future of technology is written every day.”

He applied, won the post, and got moving. His territory was vast, the entire West Coast. He met thousands of Portuguese to raise his country’s profile and travelled to Hawaii, where he surfed with Kai Lenny. More of his job, though, was promoting tech. Half of Portugal’s tech unicorns got their start in California.

Silicon Valley

Pinto took early meetings with Silicon Valley AI executives. “We’ve been working closely to foster and stimulate the interest of Open AI (owned by Microsoft) and Anthropic,” he said. Portugal leads Responsible AI, a major EU initiative. “So, we are on the same wavelength. We have this surge of AI talent, and we want synergies with the major Silicon Valley players.”

The talks are paying dividends. Microsoft will open an AI hub this fall in Lisbon. AI requires chips, and so Pinto has met with Nvidia, Intel, and Monolithic Power Systems of Seattle. Synopsys and Amkor already sport a strong Portuguese presence. Monolithic told Pinto they were impressed by the “emerging cluster of semiconductor design centers and fabs” in Portugal. “They said, ‘We did our research, and we want to go to Portugal. The talent is amazing.’”

Portuguese engineers traditionally attend the east coast powerhouses MIT and Carnegie Mellon, but Pinto has made it a priority to “establish cooperation with Berkeley and Stanford.” He designed and led a major California visit for Portugal’s beloved President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Highlights included a state dinner at the hot SF entrepreneur’s club, Shack15, and a Stanford sustainability conference with the VC John Doerr.

That visit led to the signing of the first Portuguese partnership with Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability. Pinto partnered with UC Berkeley too: a Portuguese chemistry genius left a fortune providing nearly half a million in yearly grants for those with Portuguese heritage. “Academic cooperation is a contact sport. It leads to entrepreneurship. Now we can go even further with Berkeley and Stanford, the scientific sources of Silicon Valley.”’

Finding more commonalities between California and Portugal may generate the greatest mutual returns. Pinto has met with the state’s largest almond producers who are now growing in Portugal’s Alentejo, and has helped forge a memorandum of understanding between Portugal’s wildfires agency and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

California Creativity

He's learned to mimic California-style creativity: “That's why I organized the Surf Industry Sustainability Initiative.” He strategically hosted the CA-Portugal focused seminar at UC San Diego, a center of excellence in oceanography “a great place to connect politically and economically relevant issues with youths.”

Surfonomics, Pinto believes, will be ideal to promote his country from California with blue initiatives and sustainability. Portugal leads Europe’s surfing industry, propelled in large part by Nazaré’s colossal waves, the subject of the HBO documentary 100-Foot Wave. He’s working on a new sister city program to connect Half Moon Bay, home of Mavericks, California’s biggest wave, and the town of Nazaré.

Even the consulate, which doubles as his family home, is a stage for Portugal. He recently had it painted ocean blue, and has made it a showroom for Portuguese design, with iconic blue tiles and sustainable furniture fashioned of Portuguese cork and wood, for an exhibit during SF’s Art Week.

That oceanic duality has become Pedro Pinto’s second nature. On Saturdays, the Portuguese Consul can often be found carving waves at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.


Jonathan Littman is the co-founder of RedBridge Lisbon and author of The New California Dream is In Portugal. He splits his time between San Francisco and Lisboa. 

Jonathan Littman