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The Best Towns in Arizona for Young Families

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by on July 23, 2013

The Grand Canyon State boasts immense natural beauty – including Petrified Forest and Saguaro National Park – phenomenal food, and great places to live, from more high-end communities like Scottsdale to up-and-coming, affordable towns like Buckeye.

As we studied each city and town in the state looking for the best fit for young families, we asked the following questions:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 through 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both average home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Check out our cost of living calculator and mortgage rates calculator for more information.

The Best Places for Young Families

1. Oro Valley

Oro Valley is a dynamic center of education and research. The town is home to a dozen high-tech firms, emerging as a regional center for the biotech industry and providing for lucrative employment opportunities. Oro Valley is distinguished by attractive qualities such as a median household income that is nearly 50% higher than the US median, a #1 FBI safety ranking in the state of Arizona and an excellent school district. Oro Valley’s BASIS Charter School is regularly ranked as one of the top ten high school programs in the country. Its students consistently outperform on both the statewide and national levels and go on to attend outstanding universities.

2. Scottsdale

Scottsdale is home to some of the country’s most gorgeous golf courses, an excellent school district and fantastic shopping. A number of its schools have earned top honors from the state government: Arcadia H.S., for example, was deemed “excelling” by the Arizona Department of Education. Beyond its great schools, Scottsdale is well known as a vacation hot spot and for all of the accompanying amenities. The city is fourth after only New York City, Las Vegas and Atlanta for the most five-diamond hotels in the country and boasts the highest number of destination spas per capita of any city in the U.S. Residents enjoy the city’s abundance of upscale restaurants, nightlife, art galleries and luxury shopping.

3. Buckeye

As one of the fastest-expanding suburbs over the last decade, Buckeye seemed to pop up overnight, with exponential economic growth and 22 master planned communities, expected to house more than 400,000 people by 2030. Family life today is already bright, too. Buckeye celebrates Countryfest in the fall, Pioneer Days in the spring, and a Fourth of July party in the summer. The town is also committed to maintaining its green spaces, with tree-planting initiatives, therefore earning the title of Tree City USA from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

4. Peoria

A major suburb of Phoenix, Peoria is considered a city with potential for advancement. It is the proud home of Lake Pleasant and its accompanying regional park, locally known as a “jewel in the desert”, boasting 10,000 acres of water, two marinas and boat and watercraft rentals galore. The park provides for exceptional recreational opportunities, including an extensive trail system for biking, camping and hiking; archaeological sites and even gliding lessons from the Turf Soaring School. Additionally, the city has an eye on glamorous high-end waterfront development and has already gained recognition as an educational destination for accommodating the Challenger Space Center, which hosts stargazing events and space-flight simulations.

5. Chandler

Chandler is a prominent suburb of the Phoenix metro area, with an impressive draw for high-tech career seekers. Its advanced computer-manufacturing industry, with Intel as Chandler’s top employer, attracts skilled workers from the area’s top universities and stimulates city growth and a healthy economy. Apart from its job opportunities, Chandler is also famous for its Ostrich Festival. During the 1910s, the city’s economy was sustained on ostrich farms to fulfill a demand for plumes used in women’s hats. Although that demand has now dwindled, Chandler commemorates its quirky origins with an annual celebration.

6. Sierra Vista

True to its name, which translates to “mountain view”, Sierra Vista is a haven for hikers, campers and all-around nature lovers. Bordering the city are the majestic Huachuca Mountains, rising nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, and the Miller Peak Wilderness area, which provides spectacular views. Other outdoor attractions include the Kartchner Caverns, the Coronado National Forest and the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, a famous bird-watching attraction. In fact, Sierra Vista carries the nickname Hummingbird Capital of the United States since bird watchers from all around the world flock to observe and photograph hundreds of bird species.

7. Lake Havasu City

A popular tourist destination year-round, it seems that Lake Havasu City has something for everyone. In spring months, the city is joined by university students who seek out the city’s uplifting vibe, calm waters and warm beaches. Due to its lakeside location, Lake Havasu City is home to an abundance of water sports and boating competitions, including the International Jet Sports Boating Association World Finals. Additionally, many events center around the city’s central attraction, the London Bridge—a bridge that was actually imported from London’s Thames River in 1971. The bridge is incorporated into the city’s triathlons and marathons and makes for the perfect viewpoint for the Havasu Balloon Festival & Fair.

8. Gilbert

The town of Gilbert boasts a small-town feel with big-city appeal: its friendly community and safe neighborhoods are complemented by its progressive school districts and general appreciation for education. The Gilbert Public Schools District, for instance, employs the highest number of National Board Certified Teachers in the state: that’s 105 teachers who are recognized for their excellence and commitment to their profession. 

9. Prescott

Prescott’s downtown has regularly been recognized for its beauty. Its Courthouse Plaza stands alongside Central Park and Santa Monica Beach as one of the Great Public Spaces in the United States, according to the American Planning Association. Seven out of eight of Prescott Unified schools earned a letter grade of “B” or higher on the Department of Education’s statewide assessment of Arizona schools. This assessment is a comprehensive look at academic performance: scores on standardized tests, academic growth, dropout rate, graduation rate and ESL success. Education for adults is just as top-notch, too. Northern Arizona University maintains a Prescott campus that offers degrees in fields like education and public administration, while Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in a number of sciences, from aviation to electrical engineering.

10. Sahuarita

Sahuarita prides itself on its natural beauty and its strong educational system, for children and adults alike. The town boasts 7,000 acres of natural spaces, including pecan groves and agricultural fields. Sahaurita High’s music department recently got a big boost: the GRAMMY Foundation awarded the program $5,500 in grant money to support fine art education at the school. Furthermore, both the University of Arizona and Pima Community College have partnered with the school district to bring more higher education opportunities to the city.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Oro Valley Tucson 9 $308,600 $1,815 $71,561 17.24% 64.4
2 Scottsdale Phoenix 9 $430,500 $2,133 $71,816 24.93% 62.4
3 Buckeye Phoenix 6 $168,000 $1,554 $63,935 80.69% 62.1
4 Peoria Phoenix 8 $216,800 $1,679 $64,270 23.12% 61.6
5 Chandler Phoenix 8 $255,100 $1,712 $71,343 22.13% 61.1
6 Sierra Vista 7 $200,300 $1,461 $56,671 47.48% 61.0
7 Lake Havasu City 8 $223,100 $1,387 $44,069 20.74% 60.8
8 Gilbert Phoenix 8 $266,100 $1,860 $80,090 17.72% 60.2
9 Prescott Prescott 8 $291,000 $1,581 $43,867 23.76% 59.3
10 Sahuarita Tucson 7 $224,300 $1,633 $72,781 36.82% 59.2

Methodology

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

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city 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)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

64 Arizona cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 10,000 were considered.

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  • JaneGalt

    Lake Havasu City should NOT be ANYWHERE in this list. While it might be a nice place for summer tourists and the retired “Snow Birds” who clog the city every winter, it is NOT a good place for young families to live. Right now unemployment is at 10 1/2%!!! The only places for young people to work (IF they can even get a job) are supermarkets, restaurants, fast food joints and Wal-Mart as well as other retail establishments, few of whom offer full time hours or even a decent wage. The median wage might be $44,000 for OLDER people, but I don’t know ONE young family who pulls down that much money, let alone be able to afford a $224,000 house! As far as the university goes, when those students graduate, few of them stick around and live in Havasu. The public schools suck because they pay their teachers so little compared to other communities that they can’t keep them for long before they find something better elsewhere. Your rating is HIGHLY unrealistic. Next time ask some of us young people who actually live here!

  • Eric Jetson

    Sorry JaneGalt, but I disagree. I think you missed the fact that they are measuring “household income”. I know plenty of young families that easily make that kind of money. When both Mom and Dad are working at $12.00 that is nearly $50k a year household income. Also, $224,000 is the “median” price for a home. A young family may need to do it the old fashioned way and purchase a “starter” home, earn some equity, sell, and then move up into something nicer and larger as the family grows. This could easily be done here on a $50k income. I am not sure of your personal situation, but you sound very bitter about something. As a young person who lives here I feel that Lake Havasu is a great place to live for a young family. Also, most of the unemployed people that I know are lazy, irresponsible, not flexible, or too prideful to do something different that they were doing before the housing bubble burst. Just today there are over 400+ jobs listed on the major job sites in Lake Havasu. You are not going to find big corporate ladder jobs here. If you want that kind of existence you will need to go to Phoenix or Vegas, but there are plenty of ways to make a decent living here if you are willing to work.

  • JaneGalt

    Eric, I have seen those job listings too. Scads of low-paying retail jobs with a few medical-based ones. The jobs in this town that don’t require higher ed. usually don’t pay $12.00 an hour; more like $8 or $9. And unless they are full time, forget any “bennies” like health insurance, which drives them to the AHCCCS roles. A lot of smart, hard-working young people I know work at least 2 jobs just to survive and still don’t get any benefits. There aren’t too many “starter” homes for sale out there that don’t require thousands of dollars in repairs to make them livable, and then just try getting a loan, even if your credit is good (and many young people DON’T have great credit). What’s even worse is we pay equal or more than larger cities for utilities (ESPECIALLY sewer!), groceries, gasoline and often even retail items. Sorry, but I don’t see LHC as being affordable or having any long-lasting potential for most young people.

    I’m glad you know “Plenty” of young families pulling down $50k a year. I have yet to meet any in over 20 years here. I’d be outta here if I could even break even on my house, but I don’t see that happening for a while yet.