As far as demographics go, Arizona is probably best known for being a retirement state. However, as the population continues to boom, an increasing number of families are also relocating to the Grand Canyon State—particularly the Phoenix metro area. For the last several years, Phoenix has led the nation’s growth, and it is now the fifth-most-populous city in the United States.
Because of Arizona’s rapid growth, most of the best places to raise a family in the state are within the Phoenix metropolis. But younger folks are moving to Arizona’s other cities and some of the smaller towns as well, excited about the weather, the geographical beauty, and the relatively low cost of living.
Using the metrics of safety, quality of education, recreational opportunities and climate, health care, and the adult-to-child ratio as appropriate, we present the top 12 cities in Arizona in which to raise a family.
We took four main variables into consideration to determine the best places in Arizona to raise a family. The variables are quality of education, health care, personal safety, and recreational opportunities. We also looked at the adult-to-child ratio as appropriate, using U.S. Census data as a primary source of information.
We began by searching for the Arizona communities that U.S. News & World Report ranked as having highly ranked high schools, including private, public, and charter schools. We used this as an indicator of education quality. Then we checked HealthGrades to determine the quality of hospitals and medical centers in each community.
We filtered the resulting list for safety, paying attention to cities and towns that were featured among Alarm.org’s safest in the state. We removed cities and towns with falling populations, treating population growth as a proxy measure for desirability.
Here you’ll find our list, along with the highlights that are top 12 best places to live in Arizona in 2021
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Only an hour and a half from downtown Phoenix and two hours from Flagstaff, Payson has the advantage of being a medium-sized town situated in gorgeous mountainous terrain. It’s an outdoors person’s paradise and a good place to raise a young family.
Approximately 15,000 people live in the town, 65% of whom are under retirement age. The population is growing, but slowly—less than 1% per year. There are several medical clinics and one larger hospital in the small city.
Schools in Payson rank at or above the national average, and the student-to-teacher ratio is identical to that of the state as a whole, 19:1.
Unfortunately, Payson has high crime for a municipality its size, which is why it is not ranked higher on our list of Arizona’s best places to raise a family. Property crimes occur more frequently than violent crimes.
Neither Pine nor its tiny sister town Strawberry are at all populous. In fact, neither is actually an incorporated city. Locals refer to them as together, as they are essentially one municipality. Combined, Pine and Strawberry only have about 2,000 residents. But size isn’t everything when it comes to the best places to raise a family.
The climate, the abundant recreational opportunities, the scenery, and the high level of personal safety combine to make Pine-Strawberry an excellent area for young people to grow up.
The population of the two townships is stable, with a zero percent population change over the last several years. Many of the homes in the area are summer residences for Phoenicians, who do not count in the population total.
The state capital is less than a two-hour drive away. While the average annual high temperature in Phoenix is about 85 degrees, it is about 15 degrees cooler in Pine-Strawberry. As a result, the effective population of Pine-Strawberry can more than double in size when the weather is too warm elsewhere in the state.
There is only one school in Pine, serving 128 students. However, it is ranked higher than 80% of schools in Arizona, performing well in both math and reading.
The student-to-teacher ratio is only 8:1, far better than the Arizona public school ratio of 19:1. So while there is a small number of children in the area, they receive high-quality education and extensive attention from their teachers.
Crime is very low in the area, far lower than the national average. The violent crime index of Pine is 18.4, compared to the US average of 22.7; the property crime index of Pine is 28.9 compared to the U.S. average of 35.4.
Healthcare is limited to a single clinic and a handful of private doctors. Most people drive the half-hour to the larger city of Payson for specialized care.
Outdoor recreational opportunities abound, as Pine is situated in a mountainous national forest with a number of lakes nearby.
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Yuma is the sunniest city in the world, and it’s also a hot place for folks to raise a family. With about 105,000 people, it is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, with a 10% year-to-year rate of population increase.
Yuma is now the third-most-populous city in Arizona after Phoenix and Tucson. Its population significantly increases from November through March, as so-called “snowbirds,” usually retirees, relocate there temporarily to overwinter.
As with most other Arizona cities, Yuma is a retirement destination. However, 80% of the city’s population is younger than 60, and 27% are younger than 19 years old, making it one of the younger cities on our list.
The Yuma education system—including private, public, and charter schools—features two particularly high-scoring elementary schools, according to Great Schools’ multifaceted ranking system.
One of these is in the Yuma Unified School District and the other is in the Crane School District, representing the two predominant educational systems in Yuma County.
Yuma has numerous healthcare offerings. The Yuma Regional Medical Center ranks 15th best in the state.
Safety-wise, Yuma is about 17% safer than other cities in the United States. Property crimes significantly outnumber violent crimes.
Family recreation opportunities are vast in Yuma. Although it is the third-hottest city in America, it is situated on the Colorado River, so water-based sports like boating are popular.
Families also enjoy hiking in the Sonoran Desert, off-roading in the Imperial Valley, attending festivals, and shopping at farmers’ markets.
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Sedona is known for its jaw-dropping red rocks scenery and resultant international tourism market, but it’s also a great community in which to raise a young family.
Although it’s always bustling with visitors, the population of the town itself is surprisingly small, with only about 10,300 residents. And in the case of Sedona, that small-town status lends itself to a strong sense of local community.
About 60% of the town’s residents are under the age of 65, but fewer than 10% are minors. Seventeen schools serve Sedona’s children.
Sedona is an affluent city. As there are few employment opportunities beyond the hospitality industry, most workers commute the 30 miles to Flagstaff or a similar distance to towns in the nearby Verde Valley for their jobs.
Sedona’s crime rate is moderate compared to other cities in the United States. Its crime rate index is 50 – which means that 50% of cities are more dangerous and 50% are less dangerous than Sedona. However, it is much safer than the Arizona average, and property crimes far exceed violent crimes.
The town is an absolute heaven for outdoorsy families, with endless hiking trails to explore, Oak Creek to wade in, Jeep tours to enjoy, and lots of camping. A movie theater provides some indoor entertainment for all ages.
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The population of Tucson has been growing at a rate of about 4% over the last decade. Arizona’s second city is home to about 500,000 people, but the entire metro area houses nearly 1 million people. Yet, the cost of living remains manageable at 8% less than the national average. This allows young families the financial breathing room to relocate to Tucson and set down roots.
Corporations also enjoy the low cost of doing business, so more companies are relocating their headquarters to the city. For this reason, employment opportunities for young parents are increasingly extensive, ranging from Raytheon Technologies and the US military to Caterpillar and the University of Arizona.
There are lots of kids in Tucson—22% of the population is under age 19. Approximately 750 schools serve these children, with several gaining very high marks from Great Schools.
These include BASIS Tucson Primary as well as University High School, which has been ranked the second-best high school in the nation within the last decade. It is consistently the top-ranked public school in the state.
The University of Arizona conducts cutting-edge research in many disciplines, including medicine, and hospitals and healthcare tend to be excellent throughout the city.
According to U.S. News and World Report, Tucson’s Northwest Medical Center is the fourth-best hospital in Arizona, while Banner University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center are tied for number seven.
Tucson has a slightly lower crime rate than similarly sized American cities, but a higher rate than the national average with regards to both violent crimes and property crimes.
There are plenty of family recreational opportunities throughout the Tucson area. The annual gem show attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world, and the book festival is popular among all ages.
Both road cycling and mountain biking are popular, with the Tour de Tucson race drawing thousands of participants and spectators annually. Outdoor sports are also very popular for families.
Innumerable miles of hiking trails wind their way through the forest and desert, and there is even a chance to snow ski at the top of Mount Lemmon, which is 9,100 feet in elevation. Children’s Museum Tucson is an exciting interactive destination for families as well.
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Twice the capital of Arizona Territory, Prescott is brimming with history and natural beauty. Located in the center of the state, the quaint mountainous town of Prescott has several nicknames that reflect its family-friendliness.
It’s deemed both “Everybody’s Hometown” and, because of its annual well-attended holiday festivities, “Arizona’s Christmas City.” Situated at 5,500 feet in elevation, Prescott shares its third nickname, the “Mile-High City,” with Denver, Colorado.
Several small international companies and three local colleges, along with state, county, and local government, are the major employers in the area.
While a significant percentage of the town’s population of 47,000 people is of retirement age, approximately 61% are younger than age 65.
The population has grown rapidly for the last several decades, with a current population growth rate of about 2.25% annually, a metric that indicates the desirability of the town. Families relocate to Prescott to enjoy its mild four-season climate and fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities.
Prescott has about an average safety record compared to similarly sized cities around the country. Violent crime is slightly less frequent in Prescott than around the nation, while property crime is slightly more common than in the rest of the U.S.
Forty-four schools from preschool through high school serve Prescott’s youth. The top-rated school is Abia Judd Elementary, which Great Schools scores 10 out of 10 based on a variety of measures, including equity and academic performance.
Families in Prescott find plenty of fun in the area to keep them busy, especially in the outdoors. The Prescott National Forest has more than 450 miles of hiking trails, and the town itself features five small lakes.
Cultural family fun includes visiting museums like the interactive Sharlott Hall Museum and the Museum of Indigenous People, and there are festivals almost every weekend of the year on the town’s quaint Courthouse plaza.
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Right next door to Paradise Valley, Scottsdale is another affluent incorporated city near Phoenix that maintains both an Old West scene and an upscale vibe.
It is home to many celebrity spas and golf courses, but it is also an excellent place to raise a family, considering the quality of healthcare, schools, relatively low crime compared to the rest of the state, and plentiful recreational opportunities for young people.
The population of Scottsdale has skyrocketed almost 19% over the last decade, and now there are more than 258,000 residents living there. Only 15% of them are of school age, but the schools in Scottsdale are, overall, excellent.
BASIS Scottsdale, a charter school, is the 12th best school in the state. It consistently performs in the top 1% of American elementary schools.
Scottsdale’s healthcare system is also top of the line. HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical System came in eighth in the state, according to US News and World Report, and in addition to other excellent public hospitals there are innumerable private specialty clinics throughout the city.
For recreation, families enjoy visiting Old Town Scottsdale, which is simultaneously a shopping and entertainment center and a neighborhood of Old West-style buildings, with horse-drawn carriage rides sure to please the young at heart.
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5. Paradise Valley
In many ways, Paradise Valley lives up to its heavenly name. It’s a well-manicured and well-heeled city abutting the Phoenix metro area. Although it has fewer than 15,000 residents, Paradise Valley has grown nearly 15% over the last decade. It is the wealthiest township in Arizona, and the streets and landscaping are pristine.
The law enforcement-to-civilian ratio is quite favorable compared to many cities in Arizona, at 2.89 police per 1,000 citizens. Almost all of the 199 crimes per 1,000 people that were investigated in 2020 were non-violent. Overall, Paradise Valley proves to be a very safe city in which to raise a family.
Academically, a number of the top-ranked schools in Paradise Valley fall within the adjacent Scottsdale Unified School District. Cherokee Elementary scores a 9 out of 10 according to the website Great Schools, and several other schools perform at or above the 70th percentile, per their ratings. However, only about 20% of the city’s population is of school age.
Paradise Valley also has an excellent health system. Paradise Valley Hospital earned an A in 2020 in Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety grading system. Plus, Paradise Valley is only a 12-minute drive to Scottsdale, another of our 12 best cities, which is much larger and has an extensive world-renowned healthcare system.
Regarding family recreational activities, there are a number of golf courses, hiking trails, municipal parks, and indoor attractions in Paradise Valley, but most families will head to Phoenix or one of its suburbs for fun.
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High-elevation Flagstaff, at the base of the stunning San Francisco Peaks, takes one of the top spots on our best places to raise a family list because of its balance between the natural environment and the city amenities.
Home to Northern Arizona University and Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first observed, Flagstaff offers a mild climate, tons of recreational opportunities, and a generally high quality of life for folks of all ages.
Plus, it’s just 90 minutes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, situated at 7,000 feet in elevation among high aspen and pine forests. The locals are friendly, and the air is fresh and crisp year-round.
Another quickly growing Arizona city, Flagstaff is home to 75,000 people, which is about 14% more residents than 10 years prior. A little less than 18% of the population is of school age.
The quality of the 72 schools in Flagstaff tends to be quite good. Another K-12 BASIS charter school is found in Flagstaff, and Great Schools gives it consistently high marks. Tied with BASIS, the college prep high school Northland Preparatory Academy is the city’s other best school.
Flagstaff Medical Center, one of the local hospitals, has been ranked the second-best in the state. There are many other hospitals, emergency clinics, and private doctors in this Northern Arizona city.
Unfortunately, crime is quite high in this lovely city. It fares worse than 92% of other cities in the United States on the crime index. While violent crimes occur less often than property crimes, they’re on the rise.
It snows in Flagstaff, which is home to the most-visited Arizona ski resort. If skiing isn’t your family’s thing, check out the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, with ropes courses and wobbly bridges for the adventurous to navigate.
Or clamber through a lava tube, visit the nearby Sunset Crater National Monument, check out some archaeological sites, or join millions of others to make the short jaunt to the Grand Canyon.
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3. Oro Valley
Oro Valley is on the north side of Tucson in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, but it is its own city with significantly different demographics. With about 46,000 residents and growing, it’s definitely a destination for wealthy retirees and golf afficionados. It is also an excellent site to raise a family.
Foremost, although less than 20% of its population is school-aged, Oro Valley is home to the second-best high school in the entire state, a charter school called BASIS Oro Valley. This happens to be the 18th best high school in the nation and sixth best school in the state, according to PublicSchoolReview.com.
Oro Valley is an active city, and the healthcare is of high quality. Its main hospital, Oro Valley Hospital, ranks highly according to U.S. News, and of course there are a number of other excellent healthcare facilities throughout the affluent city.
Crime is relatively low in Oro Valley; it scores better than 47% of all U.S. cities, according to FBI data. Residents of Oro Valley are about 10 times less likely to experience a violent crime than the average Arizonan.
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Oro Valley has its own Children’s Museum, a musical dinner theatre venue called The Gaslight Music Hall, lots of farmers markets, and plenty of horseback riding and hiking opportunities.
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Adjacent to the sprawling Phoenix metro area, Chandler comes in number two on our list of best cities to raise a family because of the quality of education and healthcare found there.
In addition, the city has a relatively high safety ranking and all the recreational amenities you would expect being next to one of the largest cities in the country.
More than 261,000 people call Chandler home—a number that is growing, like so many Arizona cities. A full quarter of the population are children, one of the highest percentages in the state. The youth are in luck, as the city offers excellent schools. In fact, Chandler is home to the 7th best high school in the country, BASIS Chandler.
The city also touts one of the 50 best hospitals in the United States, Chandler Regional Medical Center, which has a renowned family birth center.
Both violent and property crime occur less frequently in Chandler than in the average United States municipality. Property crime happens about twice as often as violent crime, and yet with an index of 13.2, Chandler’s property crime rate is significantly lower than many other Arizona locations.
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Visit the Arizona Railway Museum, or check out Escape Chandler, rated one of the top five escape rooms in the Western US. Not that you–or your family–will want to escape this excellent city in which to raise a family anytime soon.
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Located near Phoenix, Gilbert is the land of superlatives, having won a slew of recent national awards pertinent to family wellbeing. These include the “#1 Most Prosperous Large City,” the “#1 City Where Millennials are Buying Homes,” and the “#2 Best Place to Live in Arizona,” among many more.
These designations highlight a major trend for people to relocate to and stay in Gilbert, as evidenced by the 22% population growth over the last decade. Only 10% of the population is over retirement age; the remaining 90% are younger than 65.
Safety is a main draw to Gilbert. It is has continually ranked as the safest city in Arizona and has ranked as high as the second safest municipality in the nation by several studies. Crime is actually decreasing as the population increases, which is a rare phenomenon around the world.
Medical care is quite good as well. The best hospital in Gilbert, according to US News, is Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, which is ranked as the 13th best hospital in the state.
Educationally, Gilbert shines. The Gilbert Classical Academy High School is the 60th best school in the country. There are 40 schools serving 33,000 students, from preschool through high school, in the Gilbert School District, which now extends beyond the city limit, thanks to the city’s booming population. And there are a number of excellent private and charter schools outside the district as well.
By nearly all relevant measures, Gilbert exceeds state and national rankings regarding desirability for young families. On balance, it’s our top-ranked Arizona location to raise a family.
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While Arizona is known as a state that attracts retirees, it is also appealing for younger people, as evidenced by its tremendous growth rate over the last decade.
Ranging from tiny towns to booming metropolises, some Arizona municipalities are more family-friendly than others. By taking into account variables including safety, quality schools, a high number of young people, satisfactory healthcare, and year-round recreational options, we have introduced you to the top 12 cities throughout the state where folks might raise a family. Which one best suits your family’s needs?