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The Best Towns in Washington for Raising Kids

Best Places in Washington for Raising Kids

In the northwest corner of America, the raw beauty and rich culture of Washington remain a secret to many. Yet, as the state’s cities continue to grow, word is getting out: Washington is an amazing place for happy, healthy and active families.

With metropolitan cities resting at the foot of mountains and many award-winning school districts, limiting the final number to 10 was a challenge. But in refining our list, NerdWallet analyzed the data with these key questions in mind:

Does the town have good schools? We incorporated scores by GreatSchools, a nonprofit that rates public schools in a given town with their standardized test scores. Those results are then compared to the state average to arrive at a final rating from 1 to 10, with 10 the highest. Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.

How affordable are the homes? We looked at the cost of living, including ongoing, monthly homeowner costs like mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuels and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.

Is the town growing and prospering? We evaluated a town’s economy with its median household income and income growth over the last decade. A higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Don’t miss our 2014 rankings of this study.

Best places in Washington for raising kids

1. Maple Valley

Maple Valley has been previously recognized as a great place for families — and for good reason. With a population of 22,684 and growing, the city boasts affordable homes, award-winning schools and access to outdoor recreation. Both Tahoma High School and Glacier Park Elementary have embraced the surrounding mountains, rivers and valleys as their living classroom and pioneered environmental education. Students directly apply what they’ve learned with projects that use solar energy, reduce waste and better manage stormwater runoff. On the weekends, hiking and fishing in the Cascades await, while fresh produce at the local farmers market abounds.

2. Woodinville

Woodinville is well known in Washington as the site of Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, Redhook Brewery and The Herbfarm, a destination restaurant, but it’s also known for its great quality of life. Less than 20 miles from Seattle, Woodinville maintains a thriving and close community of over 10,000 residents. Parents are actively involved in the improvement of local schools that are already high performing at every level by state standards. And the winery organizes a summer concert series, bringing in world-renowned musicians while the brewery hosts outdoor movies.

3. Issaquah

About 17 miles west of Seattle, Issaquah, near the tip of Lake Sammamish, offers plenty of family-friendly excursions by lake or by trail. Issaquah School District provides students at all levels with a supportive, holistic education with many extracurricular opportunities to spur creativity. Boeing and Microsoft are top employers of Issaquah residents and the city remains the headquarters of several large corporations, including Costco, which explains why this suburb is among the fastest-growing cities in the country. Yet, as the number of residents increases, the community continues to strengthen, offering family-fun events like the annual Salmon Days Festival and the First Friday Artwalks series.

4. Tumwater

Before the founding of Seattle in the mid-1800s, a small community at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound had already sprung along the Deschutes River. Flash forward 167 years: the town is still growing and thriving. This area south of Olympia is home to beautiful scenery and high-performing schools. Home costs are lower than other towns on our list, making Tumwater an excellent choice for families at different income levels. The city offers a full range of programming to engage the whole family in activities.

5. Bainbridge Island

Watching the sunset over Puget Sound from the vantage of Bainbridge Island is a stunning sight not to be missed. Bainbridge Island’s high school consistently ranks among the top in Washington while its sailing team dominates races. This elegant island community is only a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Marketplaces sprout from different corners of the island offering shops and delicious restaurants. If you’re looking for that slow-paced community feel within view and commute of the city, Bainbridge Island is an excellent choice.

6. Lake Forest Park

Lake Forest Park is one of the first planned communities in the Seattle area and, to this day, the suburb remains mostly residential. Lush, green parks dot the landscape around the northern tip of Lake Washington. The Burke Gilman Trail snakes along the lakeshore until the walking and biking trail connects with Lake Union, closer to Seattle. Lake Forest Park hosts a bustling farmers market and town activities. It’s also a 14-mile commute to Seattle.

7. Redmond

Redmond, often considered Washington’s equivalent of Silicon Valley, continues to grow as the headquarters of Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Concur Technologies and more. The school system excels with a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools. The city offers new restaurants, pubs, theaters and shops. Redmond is also home to the state’s only velodrome and boasts a thriving cycling culture. As the largest place on our list, Redmond is a thriving, active, and well-educated city.

8. Newcastle

Nestled upon hills rising from Lake Washington, Newcastle grants views of the nearby Olympic mountain range, Bellevue and Seattle. The local schools are split between two districts, Renton and Issaquah, while Bellevue, Redmond and Seattle are all within a short commute. Through the work of volunteers, Newcastle has an elaborate trail system and 12 gorgeous parks. The town is also well known for its stunning golf course at the Golf Club at Newcastle.

9. Mukilteo

At “Mukilteo by the Sea” the houses dot the hillsides facing Whidbey Island and Puget Sound. This community’s schools are consistently at the top of the pack, both in Washington and nationally. Kamiak High School is famous for being the most expensive high school in the country. The school district serves a large number of students but that figure hasn’t hindered quality in the slightest. Schools at every level consistently win awards, namely the Washington Achievement Award. To top it all off, Mukilteo is home to one of three Ivar’s, a beloved Northwest seafood restaurant chain.

10. Lynden

Five miles south of the Canadian border, Lynden embraces its pioneer history and fosters a warm community. With its iconic downtown windmill surrounded by quaint storefronts and a myriad of delicious restaurants, the town maintains a small, close-knit feel. Lynden is about a 30-minute drive north of Bellingham, home to Western Washington University and a bustling ferry terminal serving Alaska-bound passengers and more. For families looking for an affordable small-town location, Lynden fits the bill with lots of character and decent schools.

Best places in Washington for raising kids data

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth 1999-2011 Score
1 Maple Valley Seattle 9 $342,400 $2,349 $98,264 46.32% 66.05
2 Woodinville Seattle 10 $453,500 $2,468 $91,049 33.67% 64.21
3 Issaquah Seattle 9 $447,700 $2,504 $87,038 50.35% 63.80
4 Tumwater Olympia 8 $256,800 $1,810 $63,598 46.78% 62.50
5 Bainbridge Island Seattle 10 $610,300 $2,669 $96,130 37.11% 62.04
6 Lake Forest Park Seattle 9 $459,100 $2,319 $100,972 36.17% 61.57
7 Redmond Seattle 9 $460,200 $2,361 $92,851 39.13% 61.54
8 Newcastle Seattle 10 $582,000 $2,807 $106,339 32.39% 61.41
9 Mukilteo Everett 9 $478,700 $2,527 $93,120 38.32% 60.28
10 Lynden Bellingham 9 $288,200 $1,636 $52,477 22.70% 59.77


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

GreatSchools ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school).

Median home values, monthly homeowner costs, median household income and income changes from 1999 to 2011 are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

This analysis included 111 Washington cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with populations over 10,000 were considered.

Issaquah, Washington, image via iStock.


  • ingridcrozier

    Curious that all the towns are in Western Wa
    Whats with that. I grew up in Ephrata, with great schools and good community. Yes it was a small town but a great place to be from.

  • Tony

    Washington is an incredible state with wonderful people, but there’s never room for negative Nancies or Deborah downers. We are glad you are leaving soon because Washington State will become even more terrific the instant you are gone. Good luck finding your Shangri la. Life is what you make of it, and I get the feeling that you could find the flaws in any diamond.

    • Courtney Stott

      Well look at Tony and his nasty, arrogant response. Obviously we do
      see what some of these people are like. No thanks lol

      • nancy4allkids

        Courtney, have you noticed how impolite and rude you are behaving. I guess you wouldn’t notice your own ugly behavior and commentary against others…

    • nancy4allkids

      Perfect Tony! I would hate to live in Texas for sure. Southern California is not great either, but Seattle and surrounding areas are perfect. Don’t like it? Stay where you are. No reasons to ruin a positive environment.

      • nancy4allkids

        Have you noticed how negative and rude you are being? Guess not…

    • KartofflMuter

      I’m an immigrant. I really enjoyed my welcome to America by the citizens of Iowa.I was 5 and they called me a “dirty German” and hit me in the eye with a baseball bat. We moved to Wisconsin the moment we got our citizenship.Wisconsin was a reasonable state before Gov “Adolf “Walker.I met my husband there.I loved college.He became terrified the minute he met me and began applying to far distant schools.Fatal mistake.L.A. wasn’t friendly. We hated it.He was accepted for the Phd program back in Wisconsin but teaching positions were illusive so job hunting began. Madison was medium friendly.we settled into a great apt,had a baby,and he was laid off,moved to Pennsylvania-beautiful, met no one,he hated the company,moved to Portland. That was a lovely place.I was mostly indoors with baby. I went back to school.That was so fun,till we had to move to Redmond.But Bellingham? I never read it was a charming area or a great place to live or a nice cozy port. Next time your husband reads up on places to live,tell him you have veto power. I had a friend who lived Victoria,B.C. Her husband moved her from beautiful Victoria to some dinkey town where she was lonely.She died last year of cancer.

  • Debrahlynn

    What can anyone tell me about Everett, the schools, and life in general. My middle schooler is an honor student & plays volleyball. Need an excellent school with college prep classes and advance classes.

  • Red Beard

    I have lived in Washington State for 80% of my life and you are absolutely correct, Deborah. People who like this sort of hipster environment think this place is gods gift to the world, but most of them have never been to the south or the midwest (most of them actually turn their nose up at those areas) to see what real friendliness is. If it weren’t for my family connections here I would have been gone long ago.

    • Deborah Dills

      I just left and escaped my horrible life in WA (Bellingham) and now live back in CA. From the moment I arrived, people here are friendly, smile, and welcoming to me and my two sons,

      You are absolutely right when you say that most have never been anywhere else but Washington State. I lived there for almost 4 years, and it is the saddest, loneliness, dark, rainy, and spirit sucking place I have ever lived in my 57 years on this earth.

      As a young child, I lived in Châteauroux, France, while my father was stationed in the U.S. Air Force there. Once in the States, I lived in Roanoke, VA, Alephi, MD, Edison, NJ. Hazelton, PA, and then Shrub Oak, NY in Westchester County. Also my parents sent me to live in Israel on a Kibbutz in the Negev during the Summer of 1974, In 1979, I joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI, and then on to Charleston, SC for my next tour of duty, Then Athens, GA,, & Virginia Beach, VA, Then on to Monterey, CA while my husband was attending Naval Post Grad school there, Then back to VA Beach,VA for his duty on board the U.S.S. Lapon, and Houston, TX, Sacramento, CA, Keller, TX and Fort Worth, TX and in 2011, my spouse then decided, based on a book and good ratings to move to Bellingham, WA.

      I feel so very lucky to have escaped that horrible place of Northwest WA, and if you ever can leave, do so, as you only live once.

      Thanks for your response to me

      • Red Beard

        Yeah. The other 20% of my life has been Portland, OR, various areas of Southern CA, Louisville, KY, Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. I was a roadie for bands during my late teens and travelled all over the country. Western Washington is by far the least friendly place.

        • Deborah Dills

          Even the newspaper, The Seattle Times wrote a story about how people in WA state are cold, unfriendly, especially to outsiders called “The Seattle Freeze” in 2013. So this isn’t my imagination about life in WA, it is a well-known phenomenon, clear as day!

          Wikipedia definition:

          The Seattle Freeze refers to a belief that it is especially
          difficult to make new friends (particularly for immigrants from other
          cities) in the city of Seattle, Washington. According to KUOW radio, the term may have been coined in a 2005 Seattle Times article.[1]
          Newcomers to the area have described Seattleites as being standoffish, cold, distant, and not trusting

        • nancy4allkids

          The only nice place you mentioned was Washington State. I grew up in the armpit of the south and find it amusing that you prefer those areas. Good places for you.

  • nancy4allkids

    Ever look in the mirror?

    • Deborah Dills

      ???????? Have no idea what the dickens you mean???? Life in the Northwest, near Canada, is not for everyone. At almost 58 years old now, I know exactly who I am.

      As a young child, I lived in Châteauroux, France, while my father was stationed in the U.S. Air Force there. Once in the States, I lived in Roanoke, VA, Alephi, MD, Edison, NJ. Hazelton, PA, and then Shrub Oak,NY in Westchester County. Also my parents sent me to live in Israel on aKibbutz in the Negev during the Summer of 1974,

      In 1979, I joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI, and then on to Charleston, SC for my next tour of duty, Then Athens, GA,, & Virginia Beach, VA, Then on to Monterey, CA while my husband was attending Naval Post Grad school there, Then back to VA Beach,VA for his duty on board the U.S.S. Lapon, and Houston, TX, Sacramento, CA, Keller, TX and Fort Worth, TX and in 2011, my spouse then decided, based on a book and good ratings to move to Bellingham, WA.

      • nancy4allkids

        You just simply should look at yourself before criticizing Washington. I am just thankful those less than desirable places you lived in are separate from the good folk of Washington and negative Deborah folk. It sickens me to see how out-of-touch some are with regards to nicer places and nicer people.

  • Ivy Pine

    Just wondering something. Has anyone every lived in Tumwater? I have lived most of my life in Massachusetts. I like it here, except for the high taxes and the heroine abuse. Please tell me, is the atmosphere in Washington similar to the northeast? People here are labeled as not being very friendly or warm either. However, from living here it really depends. Some people here are very loving and friendly; others, not so much. It depends which town you are visiting. Of course you can tell when you are out and about which people seem approachable and which don’t. Is it this way in Washington too?

    • Jason Lee Miller

      I live in Tumwater. It’s a great little town and is growing rapidly. Low drug use. The people are pretty warm.

  • KartofflMuter

    I lived in Portland,Or. for 3 years.The only friendly people I met were at Powell’s and in the antique shops. We moved to the Redmond area and it was every drop as wet as it said it would be. When we moved to California after 15 years we were very sad to leave.True,Oregon has a better coastline as does Cali. and the sun is far superior in Cali.And you can’t beat the second spring we enjoy in fall. But we are moving home. 19 year here and my only friend is my pot dealer. I’m used to cheery smiles at the grocery store.What happened to the world? Maybe it’s you Deborah. Maybe it’s Bellingham. Maybe you just don’t get the slug jokes. Duvall used books,here I come.Fred Meyer,I’ve missed you so much. Thenos- any flavor will do. I’m coming home.