2016 Best Places to Raise a Family

Wallet Hacks - Best Places to Raise a FamilyMoving is always a challenge. Moving with children is nearly impossible.

That's why so many folks look to buy their “forever home” right before they have children. They want to make sure their kids can go to good schools, have plenty of activities to do, and the employment opportunities nearby are plentiful so that they can continue to move upward financially. Being able to walk to a bar starts to fall off the list of priorities once you have kids.

We decided to take a look around the country, using other award lists and data as our guide, to find the best places to raise a family. We skipped all the major cities and in many cases settled on the suburbs around them, with an emphasis on those with a historical and small town feel to them. The list of Best Places spans the entire country, with towns on the East Coast, West Coast, and in between.

How did we pick these places? By using the criteria by which we chose where we live. (we are just minutes away from North Laurel, which was named the 23rd best place to live by Money Magazine in 2015).

Good schools, plenty of things to do (especially outdoors), affordable housing, low unemployment, low crime, and a strong sense of community. If I didn't live where we live now, we might be in one of these places.

Here are our Best Places to Raise a Family, presented in alphabetical order:

Berlin, Maryland

Berline, Maryland sits just a short drive away from Ocean City, one of the most popular summer destinations in all of Maryland. Drive a little farther and you can be at the Assateague Island National Seashore, of the the National Park Services most celebrated locations.

If you like a small town feel, you'll love Berlin and the feeling of community in this idyllic Main Street, USA town. In fact, the downtown main street itself is a National Register Historic District with nearly fifty structures considered historic monuments.

If you want to have fun, the local arts scene is top notch.

Smithsonian Magazine called it one of the best small towns to visit in 2016 and we hope to do so in 2016!

Buckeye, AZ

Buckeye AZ's Skyline Region Park, courtesy of the City of Buckeye, Ariz.
Buckeye AZ's Skyline Region Park, courtesy of the City of Buckeye, Ariz.
Buckeye, AZ is in Maricopa County and the westernmost suburb of Phoenix. With a population of just over 62,000 (2015 Special Census), it's just 30 miles west of Phoenix with a median income of just under $40,000. It is also the 15th fastest growing city, which is a boon to few families, with the largest footprint at 600 square miles.

What makes Buckeye such a fine place for families, besides it's proximity to a major metropolitan city while remaining itself a smaller community with low crime, is that it's so close to so many outdoor attractions like the 8,700 acre Skyline Regional Park – where you can hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, and camp to your heart's content (there are 17 miles of trails!). There is also a commitment to growth, as seen by the population boom, so it's sure to be a town that will be much bigger in terms of opportunity and excitement in the years to come.

Erie, CO

Downtown Erie Neighborhood Block Party on Briggs Street, courtesy of the Town of Erie
Downtown Erie Neighborhood Block Party on Briggs Street, courtesy of the Town of Erie
Erie, Colorado is a town to the north of Denver (27.9 mi) and to the east of Boulder (14.7 mi) – making it an ideal place to live if you work in either of those major cities. Median income is $102,490 and the proximity to two major cities plays a big role.

Like many towns in Colorado, it's perfect for the outdoorsy family (you can see the Rockies!) who likes to hike and ski. For those who prefer city life, there is vibrant downtown scene on Briggs Street for those who want to enjoy a night out.

If you want to remain active but not outdoors, there's a new community center with a climbing wall and two-story pool slide. For those who want to keep their mind active, the High Plains Library, just next to the community center, has 20,000 square feet of books to keep you busy.

We're not the only ones who see Erie, Colorado as a fine place to live. Money Magazine named them the 13th best place to live in 2015 and second only to Louisville in the state of Colorado.

Farmington, MO

Farmington may very well be the oldest town on our list – it's 200 years old! The most recent 2010 census puts the population at 16,240 (more recent figures put it closer to 18,000) and you can find Farmington about 7 2miles southwest of St. Louis in what's known as the Lead Belt region in Missouri.

Why is this such a great place for families? All the annual events. You have the Wiggle Giggle Fishing Derby, the Winter Wonderland, and then Country Days. The Wiggle Giggle Fishing Derby is a fishing competition for kids under 14 and is a huge event with plenty of sponsors and prizes. Winter Wonderland is Santa and Mrs. Claus' home away from from with a massive G-Scale Christmas Train Set. Finally, the Country Days is an event in the Spring that draws tens of thousands of attendees. It features a theme (2016 was Denim and Diamonds!), is organized by the Chamber of Commerce, and has food, rides and games for the kids.

If you're outdoorsy like us, there are plenty of forests and state parks, most notably Pickle Springs Natural Area. Pickle Springs Natural Area is a 180 acre natural area designed in 1986 and a treat to wander and explore.

All that sounded great, right? But that would be great for anyone, what makes this for families? The schools. Greatschools.org rates the schools very highly – Jefferson Elementary and Washington-Franklin Elementary both score 8s (out of 10) while Farmington Middle and Farmington Sr. High School score 7s – very strong marks.

Franklin, TN

Franklin Theatre, courtesy of VisitFranklin.com
Franklin Theatre, courtesy of VisitFranklin.com
Franklin is a charming and historic city less than thirty minutes south of Nashville. With a rich history in music, and plenty of jobs, Franklin has all the features you'd want if you were to raise a family – low cost of living, a strong and reliable school system, and a popular downtown area. Downtown Franklin acts as host to annual festivals and parades of all kinds with a 15 block historic district full of boutiques and shops to explore.

If arts & culture is your thing, take a look at all there is to do in Franklin. Of special note is The Franklin Theatre, which dates back to 1937 but was shut down in 2007 until it was revitalized with more than $8 million in investment and reopened three years later. It's more than a movie theatre, it hosts live music with a state of the art sound and lighting system.

Did I mention they have their own app? The VisitFranklin app helps you “Explore where to eat, play, stay and be entertained in” Franklin.

Hutto, TX

Henrietta the Hippo
Henrietta the Hippo

Located in Williamson County and a mere thirty minutes northeast of Austin, Hutto is a town with a low unemployment rate, reasonable cost of living, and a median home price that is very friendly to new and soon to be families. Austin is always highly regarded but you can get access to its activities without paying a premium when you choose to live in nearby Hutto. As of 2014, the population was just under 23,000 people.

Hutto Public Library is the local library and frequently has fun events for all ages. The Hutto Independent School District manages the public school district and received an A rating under Texas' School FIRST financial accountability rating system, scores a 7 out of 10 on Great Schools, and has great teacher to student ratios (range of 13-16 students/teacher according to Great Schools).

If you're looking for fun within city limits, the Old Town District is a great area with restored historic homes and examples of the Swedish farming community from when the city was founded. Old Town always plays host to fun and exciting events throughout the year (just a sampling… there's the Sunset Music Series, the Reds, Whites & Brews Festival, and Christmas!), there's always plenty to do there for parents and kids alike.

And last but not least, Hutto is the home of the Hippos! How can you beat that? 🙂

Lincoln, CA

The town of Lincoln, CA is located just thirty minutes northeast of Sacramento in the Placer County and for the period between 2000 and 2010, it was the fastest growing city that started with over 10,000 residents. One of the common themes of many of the towns on our Best Places to Raise a Family is this rapid growth, often fueled by an influx of new families looking for affordable housing and economic opportunity but with a small town community feel.

Lincoln has a litany of community events that would rival any town in America. In the Spring, expect ClaFest (a national arts competition) and The Holy Ghost Festival (a celebration of the town's Portuguese heritage). The summer features eight weeks of fresh produce and goods at the Foothill Farmers Market. The Fall and Winter events include two annual crab feeds, a Mayor's Cup Golf Tournament, a Lincoln Showcase that features local wineries and restaurants, plus a Christmas Parade and tree lighting ceremony.

The Western Placer Unified School District has a variety of schools but several score a 9 on the Great Schools rating system, including Twelve Bridges Elementary School and Twelve Bridges Middle School.

Miami Lakes, FL

When most people think of Florida, they think it's where retirees go but that's a completely unfair characteristic of a state with nearly 66,000 square miles. Case in point is Miami Lakes, FL, which was named of the best communities for young people by America's Promise Alliance.

The number of community programs available in Miami Lakes is astonishing and something other communities should emulate. Whether it's the youth activity program in the national JUST RUN Program to the Youth Activities Task Force for kids ages 14-19, the various organizations and events available to keep your kids healthy and moving is something we all need.

For young families, the cost of living is very important. Miami-Dade Count is one of the most affordable places to live with a 2011 Cost of Living Index of 104.6 (by comparison, Manhattan NY is a eye popping 220.7).

Midland, MI

The Tridge, kayakers, and a riverboat on the Tittabawassee River, coutsey of the City of Midland
The Tridge, kayakers, and a riverboat on the Tittabawassee River, coutsey of the City of Midland
Midland, MI is located in the Tri-Cities region of Central Michigan with a population (2010 Census) of just under 42,000 – though it's likely to have increased since then. It is home to the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, which was built in 1955 but recently received a $3 million grant for renovation and updates. If the name sounds familiar, it's because it was named after the wife of Herbert Henry Dow (founder of Dow Chemical Company) and mother of its architect, Alden B. Dow.

In addition to the library, it is a short drive away from Saginaw Bay and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, where you can enjoy fishing, golf, and other outdoor pursuits. The refuge is a nearly 10,000 acres and features plenty of opportunities for you to enjoy the outdoors and learn about conservation.

With affordable housing, low crime rates, low unemployment, and well-known stable employers (Dow Chemical is headquartered here), it's a great place to raise a family.

Parma Heights, OH

The Parma Heights Pool 7 Waterpark, courtesy of the Parma Heights Mayor's Office
The Parma Heights Pool, courtesy of the Parma Heights Mayor's Office
Parma Heights is a city in Cuyahoga County, Ohio located to the west of Cleveland. If you're working near or in Cleveland and looking for a place to raise your family, Parma Heights deserves a serious consideration. With a relatively low crime rate, good schools, and one of the best outdoor pools and waterparks in the area (what kid can resist a waterpark???) – it makes for a great place for new families. Oh, did I mention they host a “Kids in the Commons' family-friendly summer event.

One of the big cultural landmarks in the area is the Cassidy Theatre, founded in 1974 and celebrating it's 41st season in bringing the arts to the community. The Cassidy Theatre has shows all year round, open casting calls and a youth theatre program that few communities have. It's really something special.

Redmond, WA

Last but not least, we have Redmond, Washington, home to several large employers like Microsoft and Nintendo of America. If you're in technology, Redmond is home to some of the giants in the industry.

But what makes it one of the best places for families? The culture and an abundance of fun landmarks that range from Redmond City Park (all told there are 13 parks consisting of over 1,000 acres and 17 miles of trails) to Bill Brown Saloon (a historic building that was built in 1913 and once housed an actual saloon before Prohibition). If you're a fan of arts and culture, there's a Downtown Cultural Corridor that is a “place that art can flourish” and shows the city's commitment to arts & culture.

Redmond is part of the Lake Washington School District and has 10 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 2 high schools – one of which is named the Nikola Tesla STEM High School. Wow.

Smyrna, GA

If you're looking to start a family, Smyrna, GA has one of the largest young professional populations (in terms of its total population) and is located just twenty minutes from Atlanta, one of the largest and most bustling cities in the nation. Just check out the city's event calendar and you'll see a ton of events just tailor made for young families. A recent look in August showed a mix of block parties, childrens' story times, fresh product markets and food trucks.

Love libraries? (can you tell a theme?) The Smyrna Public Library is the oldest city operated library in Georgia and free for all residents.

Yet another low crime, low unemployment area with a significantly young population – new families are sure to flourish here as you grow up together.

West Linn, OR

Love Portland but don't want to raise your family in Portland? Give West Linn a look. Located in Clackamas County just to the south of Portland, West Linn is less than thirty minutes away from Portland on the Willamette River. If you like the outdoors, you'll love the view of Mt. Hood (and the river, of course) as well as the affordable housing that are perfect for new families.

We aren't the only ones to recognize West Linn, it was named in 2015 as the Top-Ranked Oregon City by CNN/Money Magazine's Best Places to Live in 2015 (and 38th overall) for some of the very same reasons we did – great views of the Cascades, relatively low taxes, and the local events scene.

Fun little fact – West Linn is located where the Willamette Meteorite was placed by the Missoula Floods at the end of the Ice Age!

There you have it — our list of the Best Places to Raise a Family for 2016.

As Seen In: