This paper examines how exposure to both socio-economic and environmental stressors and the interaction between the two affect the population of the Northern coast of the São Paulo State, Brazil. It provides a useful way to examine the multiple and overlapping processes of environmental and social- economic change. Pathways to increased vulnerability are multidimensional, so that socio-economic conditions may mediate the impacts of environmental change, but changing environmental conditions may also alter socio-economic capacities to maintain particular livelihood strategies. By analysing the region, this paper argues that the adaptive capacity is, in general, largely determined by the socio-economic context and the social vulnerability. The finding indicates that socio-economic change brought about in the last four decades due to intense urbanisation, tourism exploitation and increasingly economic activities have deepened social and environmental problems, increasing the vulnerability of particular groups to climate variability and change. The cross-scale nature of the problems and the cross-level interactions of these processes pose significant challenges for governance structures and institutions in place in the region that fail to address the root causes of vulnerability and the consequences of a changing environment and climate.