Choosing where to raise your children is one of the most important housing decisions you’ll make. The right community can help get kids started on the path to a thriving childhood. Access to great schools, parks, and lots of playmates can help keep kids happy and healthy. With that in mind, we surveyed more than 2,000 cities to find the Top 10 Best Cities for Families.
How did we find them? To begin with, we crunched the numbers on the factors most important to our youngest residents. First, we looked for places with high populations of kids but low concentrations of children in poverty using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We also used consumer spending data from Esri to find areas that had high concentrations of people buying baby food and car seats. Once we knew where the kids were, we looked for communities doing a great job of supporting them. We used data from partner GreatSchools.org to measure the quality of public schools and also looked for areas with high graduation rates. We analysed databases to find areas with plentiful parks and libraries with programs and activities for kids. We also factored in each area’s Walk Score. Health is an important consideration as well, so we looked at factors related to healthy living, especially geared for children, like air quality. Finally, we factored in general quality of life considerations like cost of living, low commute times (less time on the road can mean more time at home with the little ones) and the crime rate.
Data tells a pretty good story, but we also always rely on the judgment of our staff and editors to take the data-driven short list and arrive at the final 10 picks. We chose a variety of cities from different geographies and sizes to round out our latest top 10. Three cities (Carmel, Overland Park and Plano) also appeared on our previous index, Best Cities for Kids 2014. The latest list examined even more factors. Be sure to check out our Best Cities for Families infographic, which also provides tips for how to use our site to find the right city for your family. You don’t have to take our word for it, however, compare and contrast to find the perfect place for you. In the meantime, see what we came up with.
Check out the Top 10 Best Cities for Families.
No. 10 – St. George, UT
As the population of St. George, Utah, continues to rise so does the percentage of kids. More and more families find St. George as an ideal city to raise their children, helping make it one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. A high percentage of kids, low crime, strong schools and a cost of living that’s below the national average help make St. George one of the Best Places for Families.
The city’s top attractions appeal to a younger set. The St. George Dinosaur Discovery site allows children to literally follow the footprints of creatures that roamed the area more than 100 million years ago. Visitors to the Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum follow a quarter-mile mountain pathway that winds through the habitats of more than 300 species of animals. Youngsters find themselves surrounded by fun and educational experiences at the St. George Children’s Museum.
Downtown St. George offers a highly walkable environment with historic buildings. Families come to browse through shops, eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants and enjoy the many events held in downtown. The desert landscape, which includes red cliffs, sandstone bluffs and wide plateaus, provides beautiful views throughout the year. While there are plenty of challenging bike trails surrounding St. George, there are several easy trails that kids can conquer. With more than 15 marked trailheads, families can easily find a hiking trail that leads to majestic views of the city, follows the Virgin River or curves through forested areas. Fishing ponds, soccer fields, a skate park, and outdoor pool provide families with many opportunities to get out and have some fun.
No. 9 – Rockville, MD
Parents in Rockville, Md., pay a premium to live in this Washington D.C. suburb. Living costs may be higher than most cities, but children in Rockville get advantages that range from the city’s excellent school system to a wide collection of parks and athletic facilities. What makes Rockville one of the Best Cities for Families is the extremely low crime rate, high percentage of children in the community, and the focus schools in Rockville put on science and technology. Rockville has appeared twice on our annual Best Places to Live list. Rockville’s top employers include a number of science and information technology companies like Lockheed Martin, Westat and Kaiser Permanente.
Among the many things to do in Rockville, most activities are family-friendly. Rockville’s Town Center provides a hip urban setting with a hometown feel. Families gather at Rockville Town Square to splish and splash in a large fountain during summer months, or ice skate and admire the large Christmas tree during the holiday season. Also located downtown is the 100,000-square-foot Montgomery County Library, which features a large children’s section and teen homework area. A ballet troupe, chorus group and concert band routinely perform at F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater.
Parents and children routinely use bicycles to get around town. Millennium Trail encircles the city connecting golf courses and parks to neighborhoods. The city keeps the playgrounds, walking trails and athletic fields in great shape, and families often utilize these amenities. Nestled on a 120-acre forest preserve is the Croydon Creek Nature Center, which allows children to interact with live animals. Many Rockville children attend summer camps organized by Montgomery County.
No. 8 – Bentonville, AR
Once considered a sleepy small town, Bentonville, Ark., has emerged as a creative capital offering opportunities for entrepreneurialism and innovation. Yes, it’s the home of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, but don’t discount the experience this community offers. During the last 15 years, young families have discovered Bentonville’s appeal and helped grow the city’s population by more than 79 percent since 2000. What makes Bentonville one of the Best Cities for Families are the city’s great schools, surrounding natural attractions, strong support systems and small-town values.
Parents in Bentonville easily find ways to keep their children entertained, educated and engaged. Bands perform at several concert events throughout the year, including the Summer Concert Series at Orchards Park. Families stroll through downtown Bentonville, stopping in unique shops, local restaurants, or just admiring the historic buildings and landscaping. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and its 120-acre park inspire young minds. Surrounding lakes give families easy access to boating, fishing and wildlife encounters.
Bentonville residents give local schools high ratings. Parents say communication between them and teachers is excellent, while students say they look forward to going to school. Anchored by the Northwest Health System, Bentonville’s health-care network provides high-quality and affordable care. Doctors in Bentonville provide excellent care. Low crime and low costs of living make Bentonville an even sweeter deal for families with kids.
No. 7 – Naperville, IL
From covered bridges along its riverwalk and a 72-bell carillon tower to a dandelion fountain and swimming pool with a sandy beach, Naperville, Ill., gives children plenty to ooh and aah over. It’s no wonder that the city’s percentage of kids is higher than the national average. Although the cost of living is on the high side of the cities on our list of Best Places for Families, Naperville’s family-friendly amenities are worth paying a little more for.
Community leaders invest heavily in programs that help children learn, develop confidence and stay in shape. Parents applaud the local school system in Naperville and praise government leaders’ commitment to providing a clean, safe and vibrant area for their children to grow up. The city’s hospitals and doctors in Naperville provide excellent care as well.
During warm summer days, you’ll catch children trying to make the biggest splash at Centennial Beach, an outdoor swimming pool with a sandy beach, diving boards and picnic areas. The city is also appealing to young adults, which is why it made our list of the Best Cities for New College Grads. It’s one of many recreational facilities found in Naperville.
Families in surrounding neighborhoods often take advantage of the free parking offered in downtown Naperville, so they can spend time visiting unique shops, restaurants and strolling through historic areas. Downtown Naperville is home to North Central College, which offers a variety of performing arts shows. Children find plenty of hands-on learning experiences at DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville.
The city hosts many events during the year, from Easter egg hunts to outdoor symphony concerts. Out of all the things to do in Naperville, the most popular has to be walking the historic Naperville Riverwalk, which includes lush landscapes and covered bridges. To get a unique perspective of Naperville, many families climb the 253 steps of the Moser Tower, which offers a view of the Chicago skyline on clear days.
No. 6 – Chandler, AZ
An annual Ostrich Festival with carnival rides, spring training games between 15 Major League Baseball teams and chihuahua races on Cinco de Mayo are just some of the family-friendly activities that help make Chandler, Ariz., one of the Best Cities for Families. But what really drew our attention to this Phoenix suburb was the high percentage of children the city has, the great schools in Chandler, the comfortable climate and a massive assortment of recreational facilities. It’s easy to see that community leaders focus on providing children with educational resources and plenty of ways to stay active and engaged.
Chandler receives an average of 330 days of sunshine each year, which allows residents to spend lots of time outdoors and utilize the city’s elaborate aquatic centers and large playgrounds. More than 60 regional, community and neighborhood parks provide families with plenty of options for getting out to play. More than 325 miles of paved bike lanes and paths in Chandler make biking around town a safe option for families with young children. City, regional and nearby national parks give parents options to take their children rafting, hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking just about any day of the year. Homes in Chandler range in size and cost, making it a great place for families to choose the lifestyle they want.
Professional baseball players come to the Valley of the Sun for spring training, and Chandler is located within minutes of stadiums that host preseason games. When it comes to fun events, it’s hard to beat the Ostrich Festival. Typically held in March, this three-day event features ostrich races, concerts, carnival rides and a variety of entertainers. Children can experience the Old West at Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse, a theme park that takes visitors back to the days when cowboys rode into town on horses.
No. 5 – Leesburg, VA
Known for its historic charm, a quaint collection of shops and restaurants, and rolling, rural landscapes, Leesburg, Va., provides children with an excellent setting for exploration and discovery. The city’s low crime rate, high percentage of high school graduates, and affordable housing combine with beautiful scenery and small-town values to make Leesburg an appealing place for families. Just how appealing? Well, Leesburg holds the highest percentage of children out of cities that made our Best Places for Families list.
Schools in Leesburg focus not only on academics but building character and self esteem. Parents rave about how supportive teachers are and how challenging the curriculum can be. Doctors and hospitals in Leesburg provide excellent care. The 16 parks in Leesburg offer families opportunities to hike, picnic, skateboard, play a variety of sports or just relax. The W&OD Trail, a 45-mile paved pathway, links Leesburg to Alexandria and Purcellville. Children get a kick out of taking White’s Ferry across the Potomac River, which also provides opportunities for fishing and canoeing. Among the annual events that draw big crowds and delight children are the Leesburg Airshow, 4th of July parade and the Flower & Garden Festival. Children seven and under are invited to participate in the city’s annual Easter egg hunt, held at Ida Lee Park.
No. 4 – Carmel, IN
Life is especially sweet for children living in Carmel, Ind. Their well-educated and relatively affluent parents put a great deal of emphasis on making sure they have certain advantages. These include top-rated schools, excellent community programs, safe neighborhoods and many recreational amenities. Progressive city leaders have positioned Carmel among the most desired locations in the country for young families. Programs and projects that attracted new residents have also brought in new businesses like GEICO, NextGear Capital, and Baldwin & Lyons. The city’s percentage of children is nearly 13 percent higher than you’ll find in most places and the second highest on our list of the Best Cities for Families. That means your kids will have plenty of playmates. This is Carmel’s second appearance as a best city for kids. See where the city ranked on our Best Cities for Kids 2014 list.
The array of things to do in Carmel helps keep children active and engaged. Known as the World’s Smallest Children’s Art Gallery, a quaint little home in the city’s Arts and Design District showcases paintings, drawing and sculptures from local students. Beyond being a venue for celebrated entertainers, The Center for the Performing Arts strives to enrich the lives of local children with a variety of classes, demonstrations and internships. Kids won’t want to leave Monon Community Center where they can play at the waterpark, practice their tricks at the skatepark, run on the indoor track or hit the basketball court.
The largest park in Carmel, Central Park offers 161 acres of natural wetlands, trails, a woodland garden, fishing lagoon and skatepark. Sports and recreational facilities in Carmel provide many different activities. Many of the city’s distinct neighborhoods are connected by sidewalks and bike paths. On warm Saturday mornings, families weave through the Carmel Farmers Market picking out fresh vegetables, baked goods and crafts. The Arts and Design District holds many events and festivals, including car shows, concerts and art exhibitions. The Museum of Miniature Horses remains a favorite stop for many kids.
Hospitals in Carmel are well respected in the medical community and provide excellent care to local residents. Schools in Carmel get top ratings from local parents and provide a quality education.
No. 3 – Holland, MI
A large wooden windmill, white sandy beaches and the smell of Dutch bakeries wafting through downtown create a storybook setting in Holland, Mich. Families quickly fall in love with the city’s scenery, recreational options and architecture. What makes Holland one of the Best Places for Families is the city’s combination of small-town charm, natural beauty, great schools, low crime and a strong commitment to children.
Hugging Lake Macatawa, near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Holland’s Dutch ancestry is celebrated throughout the year. It’s been called one of the Best Cities for Water Activities. Millions of tourists visit Holland each May when an estimated 6 million tulips planted across the city reach peak bloom. Reader’s Digest named Holland’s Tulip Time Festival one the best small-town events in the country. Children are delighted by the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory and Nelis’ Dutch Village, a reproduction of an 1800’s Dutch community.
Though Holland brims with history, it offers many modern amenities and vast cultural attractions including a indoor aquatic center with slides and splash zones, more than 100 restaurants, and heated streets and sidewalks in downtown that melt snow. Parents are delighted with the many restaurants in Holland that offer kids menus alongside more adult meals. Bike paths connect neighborhoods with schools, parks and beaches. Families enjoy free waterfront concerts during warm months and touring the countryside during fall to take in the colorful foliage. Children in Holland experience the full benefits of winter with plenty of snow for cross-country skiing and sledding and temperatures cold enough to turn small ponds into ice rinks. Schools in Holland get good rating from parents. Hope College provides an option for parents to take night classes and lets younger students stay close to home.
No. 2 – Plano, TX
It’s no wonder that Plano, Texas, has one of the highest high school graduations rates in the country. Parents and educators can easily find ways to keep children engaged, learning and healthy. That’s one of the many reasons why Plano made our Best Cities for Families list. Plano schools are highly regarded by parents and city leaders. Residents here strongly support the education systems and go out of their way to protect and nurture children.
This is the second time Plano made a families related list.
In addition to playgrounds and recreation centers like the Plano Aquatic Center and the Tom Muehlenbeck Recreation Center, the city provides opportunities to explore nature, such as hiking at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve. The city’s soccer complexes helped earn it a spot on our list of Best Soccer Cities. Families enjoy strolling through downtown Plano, taking a look inside unique shops and quaint restaurants. Three local movie theaters, the Heritage Farmstead Museum and play centers like Kid Mania offer even more family-friendly activities.
The city and school system oversee many special programs for children, which range from summer camps and story groups to festivals and field trips. Plano’s highly diverse population helps children grow up with exposure to other cultures and walks of life. Children’s Medical Center Plano sits on a 155-acre site that includes vast green space and provides excellent care, as do many pediatric doctors around town. Other hospitals and health-care providers in Plano earn high marks from patients.
No. 1 – Overland Park, KS
Highly rated schools, pristine parks, affordable neighborhoods and great support networks make Overland Park, Kan., our No. 1 pick for Best Cities for Families. Located 15 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Overland Park provides children with an environment to thrive. City leaders, top employers, and most residents put children first when it comes to spending and programming. It’s easy to see why Overland Park is a best place to live.
The city’s dedication to keeping children healthy and active is perhaps best represented by the $36 million Overland Park Soccer Complex, which includes 12 lit fields and a cooling system that keeps the synthetic turf at comfortable temperatures during hot afternoons. The complex helped Overland Park earn the top spot on our list of the Best Soccer Cities. This is the second time Overland Park’s family-friendly atmosphere has been recognized on Livability.com. See where the city ranked on our Best Cities for Kids 2014 list.
“Overland Park maintains more than 83 parks and open spaces, including four small lakes where families can fish. During summer months, children can take a dip in six outdoor pools owned by the city, and the indoor pool at Matt Ross Community Center is open year round.”
Attractions in Overland Park appeal to all ages. Children are able to explore agriculture and history at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, and wander through the colorful grounds at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The Museum at Prairiefire, an outpost of the American Museum of Natural History, a bowling alley, American Girl Doll Store and climbing center provide even more things for kids to do in Overland Park.
Parents can rest easy knowing Overland Park’s crime rate is well below the national average. Air and water quality in Overland Park is excellent, and the city’s health-care providers receive high praise. Schools in Overland Park earn high praise from parents and former students. While the cost of living in Overland Park is slightly higher than the national average, the city includes many affordable neighborhoods with a variety of housing options. All these factors helped Overland Park rank for two consecutive years as one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live.
This feature is adopted from Livability