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Pua Lei Circle: Charm, Location, & Community at the Foot of Diamond Head

In most larger cities around the country, you will find at least one beloved area who’s charm and location have withstood the test of time and development. In Honolulu, Pualei Circle is a neighborhood that’s just a stroll away from busy Waikiki Beach, yet laid back and seemingly detached from all of the hustle and bustle of modern Oahu.

Building Mid-Century Honolulu

Looking at the Oahu real estate market, it’s worth noting that the building boom from the 1960s to 1980s provided a little under half the condo inventory we have today. However, the 1950s were an important time for Honolulu; the quaint and quiet island city swelled in size as new residents flocked to the area. As air travel and transportation became more efficient and jobs and business opportunities in tourism and other industries spiked, the population of Honolulu grew exponentially. It wasn’t just mainlanders who were heading to Oahu, aka ‘The Gathering Place.’ Automation took jobs from long-time plantation and agricultural workers on neighboring islands like Lanai and Maui, and the lure of better opportunities brought many neighbor-island locals over to Oahu.

In 1959, Hawaii officially became a US state, the Ala Moana Center was built, and the city was well on it’s way to becoming the metropolis it is today. At this point, Waikiki was still chock-full of residential homes amid the few big hotels. Heading up the beach toward Diamond Head, the ‘Gold Coast’ condos were constructed, fronting the ocean and neighbored by Kapiolani Park. Across the park, a new community was being built in the area now known as ‘Pualei Circle.’

Pualei Circle

The meaning of ‘Pualei’ comes from the Hawaiian words ‘pua,’ translating to ‘flower’ or ‘blossom’ and ‘lei’, the well-known floral/wreath/garland that’s typically gifted and worn around the neck. The Pualei Circle neighborhood is comprised of low-rise walkup buildings as opposed to tall condominium towers of the ‘Gold Coast’ just across the park. Pualei offers an affordable option in this highly sought-after locale. At the time of development, land was relatively inexpensive and offered developers and builders the opportunity to construct larger apartments/condos. This is why homebuyers can find one-bedroom condos from this era with 720+ square-feet and then find that in a ‘newer’ building,’ 2-bedrooms often have a square-footage of <800sqf.

One of the first residential buildings constructed in Pualei Circle was the breezy, ‘Hale Pua Lei’ a 3-story walk-up that still retains its original charm. Though turnover is relatively low in buildings such as Hale Pua Lei, it’s still possible to find a great property if you watch the market.

1960s to Now

Through the early 1960s, Pualei Circle filled out, and by 1965 most of the current low-rise condo buildings in the circle had been constructed. Homeowners rejoiced at the opportunity to affordably own property in one of the most expensive regions of Oahu, without sacrificing lifestyle and location.

Ask any current or former resident of this neighborhood to describe the area in a few words, and you might hear things like, ‘laid-back,’ ‘quiet’ and ‘tucked away.’ It’s the neighborhood vibe in addition to Pualei Circle’s prime location and walkability that makes it a true Honolulu gem. On this street, residents are nestled at the base of Diamond Head Crater, a Hawaii landmark and one of the most popular hikes on Oahu. While isolated from the more busy streets nearby, it’s only a short jaunt to a ton of coffee shops, eateries, and the KCC Farmer’s Market, which attract tourists and locals alike.

Diamond Head Community Gardens

Head out of Pualei Circle and you are greeted with the lush Diamond Head Community gardens. It’s here that many area residents enjoy growing and tending to their own gardening spaces. If you want to flex your green thumb with a 5 x 17ft plot, attend one of the meetings; 5:30 pm on the second Wednesday of every month to find out more. CNC Honolulu Community Garden Info

Queen Kapiolani Regional Park

Beyond the Community Gardens, lies Queen Kapiolani Regional Park, one of Honolulu’s crown jewels. Kapiolani Park is the largest and second-oldest public park in Hawaii. The park, dedicated in 1877 has over 300-acres of preserved, green space for public use. On any given day, you can observe park-goers picnicking, playing sports, having BBQs, and enjoying the weather and sunshine. It’s also on the edges of the park that you can find the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium.

Surf Breaks and Beaches

Spend more than a couple of minutes in Pualei Circle, and you’ll likely see surfers coming and going. That’s because residents here really take advantage of the short distance to some of the best surf breaks on the South Shore like Diamond Head, Tong’s and Public’s. This stretch of coastline is regarded as a waterman’s paradise for residents and visitors alike. Nearby Kaimana Beach aka Sans Souci, is a local favorite for swims and sunsets. Whether you’re looking to catch some swell or a snooze on the beach, both are always close-by when you call Pualei Circle home.

Waikiki’s Neighbor

Just .8 miles from lively Waikiki, Pualei circle is a perfect location for those who want to catch the sunset happy-hour specials or experience some of Hawaii’s best nightlife. In Waikiki, locals often pop in to eat at the restaurants or do a little shopping in Hawaii’s most popular tourist area. The main gripe with locals heading into Waikiki? The parking. If you live in Pualei Circle, you can walk or take a Biki bike (Honolulu’s bikeshare program) the .8 miles instead of a car.

Pualei Circle is a great option for those looking to buy in the prestigious Diamond Head area affordably. While many high-rise building residents are tucked away and don’t have much interaction with their neighbors, Pualei Circle’s layout and design give it a rich sense of community. Aside from its prime location, the community vibe is a cherished aspect of Pualei that current and former residents are quick to boast about.

Thoughts, Questions, and More Info

If you’ve got questions about Pualei Circle or think of anything I forgot to mention about this neighborhood, feel free to reach out via email or comment below!

To see my one of my favorite current listings in Pualei Circle, click here: Hale Pua Lei: Breezy 1-Bedroom Condo with Diamond Head View

For a bird’s eye view above the neighborhood,  ‎Click to View- Pua Lei Circle 360° Photo

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