15 Best Cities in the U.S. to Raise a Family

When it comes to settling down with a family, your priorities can change. Perhaps you once longed for great nightlife and plenty of singles or were wowed by high rises and trendy lofts.

When kids enter the picture, those preferences can give way to highly practical: great schools, safe neighborhoods, plenty of young families, and high-quality healthcare.

We’ve compiled a list of 15 cities that meet the needs of a growing family—our picks for the most family-friendly cities in the United States.

Methodology

We started with cities that U.S. News & World Report ranked among the top 40 in the U.S. for their proportion of top-ranked high schools. This was our indicator of education quality. Then we cross-referenced the list with the top 100 cities for healthcare, according to Healthgrades.

We filtered the resulting list for safety, removing cities that fell among Alarms.org’s 100 highest in violent crimes.

Next, we removed those with 20% or less of the population under age 20 according to Census Reporter, leaving cities with many children. We also took out those with a falling population, a proxy measure for desirability.

Finally, we went back to the education rankings and selected the top 15 among the remaining cities. These cities offer a balance of great schools, great healthcare, low crime, desirability, and a young population.

Here you’ll find our list, along with the highlights that make each city a special place to raise a family in 2021.

1. Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida by both population and area—its population is just shy of 1 million, and it covers well over 800 square miles. The city’s population includes many children, with 13% aged 0-9 years and 12% aged 10-19 years.

Duval County Public Schools serve almost 130,000 students and boast a commitment to excellence, improvement, and a “whole child” philosophy. In 2018-2019 the district received a very high “B” grade from the Florida Department of Education. The 2019-2020 graduation rate was over 90%.

In addition to public schools, over 25,000 students are served by 147 private schools in the Jacksonville area.

Colleges and Universities contribute to the education scene in Jacksonville, and local schools include Edward Waters College, Florida State College-Jacksonville, Jacksonville University, and the University of North Florida.

Jacksonville ranks #14 in the Healthgrades 2020 rankings of “The Cities Getting Healthcare Right,” owing its success to many highly rated specialists and the outstanding quality of its hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic-Jacksonville and Baptist Medical Center.

For fun, Jacksonville families enjoy local beaches and islands, the river, and the Intercoastal Waterway. With a zoo and several museums, nature preserves, and gardens, there’s always something to do on a free day.

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2. Columbus, Ohio

Similar in size to Jacksonville with just short of 1 million residents, Columbus is the largest city in Ohio and growing. It’s the capital of the state and located in the geographical center.

Kids under 10 make up 13% of the population of Columbus, while those 10-19 make up another 12%.

U.S. News & World Report says 36% of Columbus’s schools rank in the top 25% nationally. Bexley High School is the highest ranked in the city.

The Columbus City School District serves 50,219 students at 114 schools. Eighty-eight nearby private schools serve an additional 19,344 students.

Columbus is home to the main campus of The Ohio State University, as well as numerous private and technical schools.

Columbus excels in access to healthcare, its number of highly rated specialists, and top-notch facilities such as Ohio Health and Trinity Health, according to Healthgrades. In 2020, Columbus ranked 24th in the US in Healthgrades’ “Cities Getting Healthcare Right.”

When it’s time for family fun, Columbians head to Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), the North Market, or the urban green space of the Scioto Mile.

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3. Dallas, Texas

Dallas is a big city—the 9th largest in the US—with all the opportunities that come with its size. Its population is over 1.3 million—7.8 million in the metro area.

It’s also a young city. The median age is 32.9, while those aged 0-19 constitute 27% of the population.

Thirty-seven percent of schools in Dallas rank among the top 25% of schools nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report. Top schools include The School for the Talented and Gifted, Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, and Science and Engineering Magnet School.

The public school system in Dallas serves about 233,821 students across 387 schools, while 118 private schools serve another 29,363 children in the area.

The Dallas metro area is home to Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas, as well as several smaller postsecondary schools.

Dallas makes the list of Healthgrades’ top cities for healthcare, ranking 21st among large cities in population health. The weather is great for year-round exercise.

For fun, families head to nearby lakes, such as White Rock Lake, or visit the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Dallas Zoo, or the Dallas World Aquarium.

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4. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is another large city that offers big benefits to families. This historically important city is home to about 507,000 people and growing quickly. It is the capital of Georgia, offering schoolchildren opportunities to see the government at work.

Kids make up a significant proportion of the population, with 21% aged 0 to 19.

The Atlanta Public Schools educate the majority of the city’s children—about 52,000 of them—across 91 learning sites. According to U.S. News & World Report, 37% of local schools rank among the top 25% nationally.

The greater Atlanta area is also home to about 191 public schools, serving 142,182 students as of 2021, and 138 private schools, serving an additional 30,204 students.

Colleges and universities offer many learning opportunities for families. Local schools include Emory University, Georgia State University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Atlanta has high-quality healthcare offerings. Among large cities, it ranks 14th in hospital quality and 19th in population health, according to Healthgrades.

In their free time, Atlanta families can play at Stone Mountain Park or see the famous Georgia Aquarium and the ever-popular Zoo Atlanta. Six Flags Over Georgia and Fernbank Museum of Natural History are crowd-pleasing destinations for an exciting day in Atlanta.

5. Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester, Massachusetts smaller than many on our list, but it packs in a lot of advantages for the families who live there. With a population of about 185,000, it is located in central Massachusetts, about an hour’s drive west of Boston. Ages 0 to 19 make up about 25% of the population.

Worcester’s schools rank well, with 38% landing among the top 25% nationally. Its 48 public schools serve 27,494 students, and another 19 private schools nearby serve 3,579 more. The public school district boasts a 94% attendance rate, 14.2 to 1 student/teacher ratio, and 100% of classrooms on the internet.

Families in the area benefit from several local colleges near Worcester: Assumption University, Becker College, Clark University, and College of the Holy Cross.

Worcester stands for its #1 rank among medium cities and #3 among all cities on access to care, according to Healthgrades. Overall, it was 31st among medium cities in the US.

For extra fun on a day off, residents of Worcester bring their kids to EcoTarium, a local science museum with live animals and a planetarium. Other popular activities include visits to the Worcester Art Museum and many local parks for picnics and playtime.

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6. New York City, New York

With a population of over 8 million, it’s no secret that the Big Apple has more to offer than almost anywhere in the country, if you can handle the population density and the sky-high cost of living.

The median age in New York is 37.2—higher than other cities in our list—but there is still a substantial number of children. About 23% of the population is under the age of 20.

Returning to the topic of schools, U.S. News & World Report finds that 38% of the schools in the metro area are in the top 25% nationally. In math and reading proficiency, according to Public School Review, 46 schools scored 10 out of 10, including top-ranked Fiorello H. Laguardia High School and Stuyvesant High School.

As of 2021, New York has 362 public schools serving 171,127 students; an additional 220 private schools serve 59,643 more.

For healthcare, Healthgrades ranks New York #6 among large cities for local specialists, and #10 among large cities for population health.

New York offers families plenty to do when they’re not in school, from walks in Central Park and Bryant Park to ferry rides, many museums, and shows of all kinds.

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7. Denver, Colorado

Denver has spectacular views of the mountains and a population of 727,211. In 2019, Forbes listed it as #4 in its Best Places for Business and Careers. The greater Denver area is home to nearly 3 million people, about 44% of whom have a college education.

The population of Denver is made up of 21% people under 20 years of age, and the median age is 34.7.

U.S. News & World Report’s rankings put 38% of Denver’s schools in the top 25% nationally. The Denver Public School District includes 207 schools from early childhood to high school, with an enrollment of 90,296.

The metro area also includes about 113 private schools, serving 19,271 students.

Denver excels at health. It ranks 7th overall among Healthgrades’ top cities, and 3rd for large cities. It stands out for its population health and hospital quality, ranking 2nd among large cities for both. In fact, over half of the hospitals in Denver rank among the nation’s top 5%.

What do families do for fun? They go to City Park, the Denver Zoo, the Museum of Nature & Science, the Children’s Museum, or the Downtown Aquarium—when they’re not spending the day in the nearby mountains!

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8. Austin, Texas

Austin is an up-and-coming city of just under 1 million that is growing rapidly and attracting families from around the country. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report rated it the #1 place to live in the US, and Forbes placed it at #4 in its Best Places for Business and Careers.

There are plenty of kids in Austin; 22% of the population is under age 19. The median age in Austin is a young 33.9 years.

According to U.S. News & World Report, 38% of Austin schools rate in the top 25% nationally. Top schools include Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) and Richards School for Young Women Leaders, both boasting a 100% graduation rate.

The district comprises about 130 public schools and serves 81,650 students. Private schools in the metro area serve about 20,000 students.

The community benefits from the presence of the University of Texas at Austin, as well as regional colleges and universities.

Healthcare in Austin is satisfactory; the city rates among the top 100 Cities Getting Healthcare Right by Healthgrades, and ranks 8th among large cities for population health.

When Austin families aren’t at work or in school, they might visit Zilker Park or the Thinkery, a hands-on children’s museum. Lady Bird Lake draws Austin residents of all ages for a stroll or some rowing or paddling.

9. Rochester, New York

Rochester is known for education, thanks to the region’s well-respected universities. Its population is about 206,000, but the greater metro area is home to over 1 million people. It is located on the south shore of Lake Ontario.

Rochester’s population is about 24% people under 20.

The city has one of the highest concentrations of schools ranked in the top 25% nationally, with 39% falling into that range, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Rochester City School District comprises 46 schools, as well as 55 Pre-K sites and 10 alternative programs. Enrollment is around 26,078 students.

Rochester is within a short distance of as many as 21 colleges and universities. These include community colleges, like Monroe and Finger Lakes, as well as Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), several branches of SUNY, and the University of Rochester.

Healthgrades places Rochester 38th in its list of Cities Getting Healthcare Right. The city particularly excels among large cities in population health, local specialists, and access to care.

In their free time, Rochester families can visit the Strong National Museum of Play, Seabreeze Amusement Park (first opened in 1879), the Seneca Park Zoo, and the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

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10. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach gets its personality from its coastal location. It’s the largest city in Virginia, with 450,000 residents, and includes 28 miles of beaches. A very low rate of serious crime makes it a safe place to live.

Children make up a quarter of the population of Virginia Beach, with 13% in the 0-9 range and 12% from 10 years to 19 years. The median age is 36.6.

There are excellent schools in Virginia Beach, and 40% rank among the top 25% nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report. The public school district educates around 67,000 students, and the area also supports about 68 private schools serving an additional 8,000+ students.

Schools in Virginia Beach have a high average reading and math proficiency ranking, putting them in the top 20% of public schools in Virginia.

Virginia Beach also succeeds in healthcare, reaching #36 on the Healthgrades list. A particular strength is hospital quality, for which it ranks 12th among large cities.

The beaches are an obvious destination for a day off in Virginia Beach, but there are plenty of other attractions, such as False Cape State Park, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Ocean Breeze Waterpark, and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

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11. Sacramento, California

Sacramento is the capital of California, and a major center for the state’s economy and culture. Located northeast of the Bay Area, it is home to about half a million people and covers almost 100 square miles.

Sacramento has a large number of families; fully a quarter of its population consists of people aged 0 to 19.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Sacramento area has one of the highest percentages of top-ranked schools, with 43% making the top 25% nationally. The highest-ranked among these is West Campus High School.

In Sacramento, 198 public schools serve 123,165 students. Sixty-five private schools serve an additional 11,955 students.

Healthgrades rates Sacramento 33rd overall, and 16th among large cities, in its list of 100 Cities Getting Healthcare Right. The metro area particularly stands out among large cities for its population health (6th), hospital quality (8th), and access to care (12th).

Families in Sacramento find plenty of fun in the area to keep them busy. Outdoors, in the pleasant California weather, there is Lake Natoma or Sacramento National Wildlife Complex. Indoor fun includes the Aerospace Museum of California, SeaQuest, and a variety of indoor play places.

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12. Orlando, Florida

Orlando may be a great family vacation destination, but it’s also a great place for families to live. This city with a population of 287,435 is located inland yet is surrounded by water in the form of many lakes.

Orlando’s demographics show an increasing number of children; while 10% of the population is aged 10 to 19, 14% fall in the 0- to 9-year range.

Orlando has among the most schools rated in the top quarter nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report. Orlando’s charter schools perform particularly well; the top-ranked public schools include Lake Eola Charter, Orlando Science Middle High Charter, and Orlando Science Elementary Charter.

Several colleges and universities are located in and around Orlando. These include the University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Stetson University, and AdventHealth University.

In Orlando, 202 public schools serve 156,592 students. About 141 private schools in the area serve another 24,463.

Orlando ranks as a good place for healthcare, making Healthgrades’ list of the Cities Getting Healthcare Right. Warm weather year-round allows for lots of fresh air and outdoor exercise.

Fun is where Orlando really stands out. Of course, there are theme parks, but there is also the ICON Orlando Ferris Wheel, Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, Tree Trek Adventure Park, and Gatorland. For less of a tourist vibe, there are many nearby lakes and gardens nearby.

13. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Located in west central Michigan, Grand Rapids is a family-friendly city with a population of about 200,000. It appeals to those who enjoy four seasons and Midwest friendliness. Back in 2012 it ranked number 1 on Forbes’s list of the Best Cities for Raising a Family, and it continues to have a lot to offer.

Grand Rapids has a large population of children—25% of the city is under 20 years old.

Grand Rapids has many excellent schools. U.S. News & World Report says 45% of the city’s schools are in the top 25% nationally. The highest ranked is City High Middle School, where students enter the International Baccalaureate program.

Colleges and universities contribute to the learning environment in Grand Rapids. These include Calvin University, Aquinas College, and Cornerstone University.

Healthgrades lists Grand Rapids among the top 50 cities for healthcare, and 25th among large cities, but it really stands out for its access to care, which rates 6th in the country among large cities and 8th overall.

For fun in Grand Rapids, families visit the John Ball Zoo and the Children’s Museum and ride the carousel at the Public Museum. There are also plenty of high-quality neighborhood parks, swimming pools, and libraries.

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14. Washington, D.C.

Like Orlando, the nation’s capital is a hot spot for tourists, but it’s also an opportunity-rich place to raise a family. Almost 50% of the population of 705,749 people is college-educated. The metro area, which includes Arlington and Alexandria, is home to 4.9 million.

Adults make most of the news in Washington, but there are plenty of kids here, too—about 21% of the population is under 20.

High-quality schools abound in the capital. According to U.S. News and World Report, 48% of D.C. schools rank among the top 25% in the nation.

Two hundred twenty-three public schools in Washington serve 86,290 students, joined by 107 private schools serving 20,520 more. Parents appreciate the low 13:1 student to teacher ratio in the public school district.

Washington is 20th among large cities in Healthgrades’ top cities for healthcare. The city is particularly strong in population health. There are plenty of places for the public to walk and exercise.

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15. Los Angeles, California

This huge, sprawling city famous worldwide as the seat of the film and television industry may seem an unlikely choice for families, but millions of Angelenos would tell you it’s a great place to raise kids, too.

Los Angeles is home to almost 4 million people, and about 23% of them are children under 20 years. The greater Los Angeles metro area has a total population of 10.1 million. That’s a lot of kids to educate.

Many of these children are served by the Los Angeles Unified School District: 321,016 students across 592 public schools. Private schools educate another 45,606 students in the area.

Fifty-six percent of LA-area schools are in the top 25% nationally, the highest percentage in the country. Many specialty schools are available, such as Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA), Downtown Business High School, and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School.

For healthcare, LA stands out as Healthgrades’ 5th best large city for population health. The popularity of healthy, fresh diets and outdoor activities may contribute to that success.

When families in Los Angeles have free time, they may head to the miles of beaches within driving distance, the La Brea Tar Pits, or the Kidspace Children’s Museum. And for a very special celebration there’s always Disneyland.

Conclusion

Family-friendly communities come in all shapes and sizes, from the biggest cities to the calmest small towns. What they have in common are lots of kids, a commitment to great schools, a strong healthcare system, and lots to do. Which city is right for you?

Bonus: Here is the Nashville real estate market construction report if anyone considers buying a house in Nashville, Tennessee.

15 Best Cities in the U.S. to Raise a Family

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