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The Best Towns in Washington for Raising Kids

washington state

by on June 24, 2013

 

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

With safe, metropolitan towns resting at the foot of mountains and a plethora of award-winning school districts, limiting the final number to only ten was quite a challenge. In refining the list, NerdWallet analyzed decades of data with these key questions in mind:

  1. 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 on a 1 to 10 scale. Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

The Best Places for Raising Kids

1. Maple Valley

The town of 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 town boasts affordable homes, award-winning schools, and access to immaculate outdoor recreation. Both Tahoma High School and Glacier Park Elementary have embraced the surrounding mountains, rivers and valleys as their living classroom, pioneering environmental education. Students directly apply what they’ve learned with projects that utilize 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. Only a 40 minute commute from Seattle, Maple Valley serves as a model for healthy, active families.

2. Woodinville

Woodinville is well-known in Washington State as the the site of winery Chateau Ste. Michelle, the Redhook Brewery and destination restaurant the Herbfarm, but it’s also well known for it’s great quality of life. Under 20 miles outside of Seattle, Woodinville maintains a thriving, close and caring community of over 10,000 residents. Parents are actively involved in the improvement of local schools that are already relatively high-performing at every level by state standards. Not just for tourists, the winery organizes a Summer Concert Series, bringing in world-renowned musicians while the brewery hosts outdoor movies.

3. Issaquah

17 miles west of Seattle lies the city of Issaquah. Surrounded by three large mountains near the tip of Lake Sammamish, the suburb offers plenty of family-friendly excursions by lake or by trail. Issaquah School District offers students at all levels a supportive, holistic education with many different extracurricular opportunities to spur creativity. Boeing and Microsoft both were top employers of Issaquah residents and the city remains the headquarters of several large corporations, including Costco, which explains in part why this suburb is among the fastest growing cities in the country. Yet, as the number of residents increase, the community continues to strengthen, offering lots of 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 later and the town is still growing and thriving. This area south of Olympia is home to beautiful scenery and high-performing schools. Home costs are remarkably lower than other towns on our list, making Tumwater an excellent choice for families at different income levels. The town’s Parks and Rec offers a full range of programming to engage the whole family in exciting 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 State while their 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 cute 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 lake shore until the walking and biking trail connects with Lake Union, closer to Seattle. While safe and quiet, Lake Forest Park hosts a bustling farmers market and town activities. It’s also only 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 and Concur Technologies, among many others. The school system at every level excels with a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools. The city is safe and engaging with new restaurants, pubs, theatres and shops opening every day. 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 stud 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 remains 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 Ivars, 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.

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 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

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 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

111 Washington 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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  • larry s

    Issaquah has never been the headquarters of Microsoft or Boeing.Microsoft’s first HQ was Bellevue, then Redmond. Boeing’s HQ was Plant 2 in Seattle, until the 2001 move to Chicago
    Research doesn’t do itself, bud.

    • Joe Bergin

      It says that Boeing and Microsoft are large employers of Issaquah residents, not that they are based there. Reading doesn’t do itself, bud.

      • larry s

        They corrected the copy before you read it because of my comment. It used to credit Issaquah as being HQ of both Microsoft and Boeing. Actually, only Costco is headquartered there. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

        • Rosa (Mom) Simmons

          Geez they left St John out. What the????

  • Bart Coppin

    Not a single city/town east of the mountains?

    • Casey Tran Chen

      I know! We have so much here in Eastern Washington. The Tri-Cities should be on this list – we have good schools, were not hit as hard in the recession, and real estate is still going (and has been) really well. I know we have Hanford, but it’s not all bad as people make it out to be.

      • davessworks

        It’s all relative

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.maley.16 Dennis Maley

    The main selection requirement is distance to Seattle!!! Get a life and get in the car, Washington is more than a Burb of Seattle!!!!

    • davessworks

      OR – you could read the article and see the following:

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

      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)

      Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)

      Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)

      Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)

      Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted

  • Caller

    The nerds forgot to include the horrible death of Ostling’s son who was shot in his own home on Bainbridge behind his door in less than 5 minutes after police responded to his 911 call for help. Then forced to bleed to death while his family pleaded with police to allow medics to help their son, denying them the right to provide assistance to their loved one in their home. The family received a $1,000,000 settlement after fighting the city for years in the courts. To make matters worse, the family was publicly humiliated inappropriately by the Kitsap prosecutor and city, and in the press to
    intimidate and bully the family.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2017598651_bainbridgeday126m.html
    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2017605686_bainbridge27m.html

    Bainbridge police routinely harass kids and young families often endangering their lives, and falsely accusing people of crimes. Pulling guns on people at their homes for false complaints. Forcing residents to spend money to defend themselves against frivolous charges to help justify an Island court and judge and support a burgeoning population of unethical resident attorneys.

    Too much corruption and graft on Bainbridge to consider this a good place to raise kids. When the town judge is married to the biggest developer you can only imagine the nonsense that makes raising kids on Bainbridge a very dangerous proposition. Pay 40 dollars/day to commute by car ferry, and live in an expensive Grow Ave Shoe Box stacked like sardines, and be harassed by local authority and dissed by self-important Bainbridge elites. Including those serving on the local school administration and board. Good Luck with that. Sell while you can still get out before the drinking water is really messed up by over-development, and the humongous Superfund site that is now a park oozing contamination at dangerous levels, and other hazardous parks with cancer causing waste. YUCK.

    • Tiphany Lopez

      They didn’t include Eastern Washington because it’s not a desirable place to live in Washington, compared to the west.

  • Caller

    The nerds forgot to include the horrible death of Ostling’s son who was shot in his own home
    behind his door in less than 5 minutes after police responded to his 911
    call for help. Then forced to bleed to death while his family pleaded
    with police to allow medics to help their son, denying them the right to
    provide assistance to their loved one in their home. The family received a
    $1,000,000 settlement after fighting the city for years in the courts.
    To make matters worse, the family was inappropriately publicly humiliated
    by the county prosecutor and city, and in the press, to 
intimidate the family.
    



    The police routinely harass kids and young families, often endangering their lives, and falsely
    accusing people of crimes. Pulling guns on people at their homes for false
    complaints. Forcing residents to spend money to defend themselves against
    frivolous charges, to help justify an Island court and judge, and support a
    burgeoning population of unethical resident attorneys. 



    Too much corruption and graft on Bainbridge, to consider this a good place to raise kids.
    When the town judge is married to the biggest developer, you can only
    imagine the nonsense that makes raising kids on Bainbridge a very
    dangerous proposition. Imagine, pay 40 $/day to commute by car ferry, live
    in a Grow Ave shoe box stacked like sardines, be harassed by local
    authority and dissed by self-important Bainbridge elites. Including those
    serving on the local school administration and board. Good Luck with that.
    Sell while you can still get out before the drinking water is really
    messed up by over-development, and the humongous Superfund site that is
    now a park oozing contamination at dangerous levels, and many other hazardous waste city parks
    with cancer causing waste. YUCK.

  • Anthony Foltz

    Wow, yea if you can afford a 2000 to 3000 dollar a month house payment let alone all the congestion, stress and cost of commuting it would be great to live over on that side of the mountains if I was bill gates. There are some great cities on the east side of the state? Parts of the Spokane area, Wenatchee and Areas of the tri cities..

  • carey

    we live in fife and its amazing every year they have a harvest festival with free hot dog meals,caorn entertainment and fireworks, they also have a Halloween party at the high school and everythings free they handed out flashlights,ice cream and a bunch of other things and around Christmas they have a santa run where santa santa runs around town with a firetruck handing out presents to all the children I absolutely love fife. I couldnt imagine living any where else.

  • true

    So my fiancee and I want to leave the east coast and never look back,we’re lesbians and want to raise a family, is washington and it’s cities safe for myself and my family if so what cities are the best

    • Ben

      not Issaquah. I work there and it is not friendly of other lifestyles and skin colors.

    • Lex

      Seattle would be amazing for you. Capitol Hill and areas near the university are progressive in a beautiful, forward-thinking manner. Not to mention, there are an abundance of outdoor activities to do in and around the area. Trails that lead to some awesome rock climbing routes are approximately 30 minutes east of the city (exit 38), and there are tons of parks within the city. I’m from Georgia, where I had often encountered awkward glances from being in an interracial relationship. Here, I can walk hand-in-hand with my best friend, or accompany another close friend and her girlfriend on double dates without a second glance. I currently live in northern Tacoma, which is a beautiful area that has a nice museum district and some neat restaurants. I enjoy it because the cost of living is lower than in the city, but I think that Seattle would be a great choice for you two. Congratulations on the engagement, and good luck on your move!

  • SAHM937

    My husband and I are planning a move to Washington for next year (Late Spring 2015) from Ohio. We are looking for a city that’s not too small and not to rural, but not big either. The city we’re currently in has about 66k residents and that’s bigger than what we would like Maybe something around 5-10k residents ..maybe even fewer if the other factors were right on. We hope for a place where we can have some land. We’re going to have a few horses for personal riding, and a few other small farm animals (chickens, a few goats..Maybe a rabbit or 2) ..We also would like to have a Fairly decent sized greenhouse, as well as run our family HVAC company from our home office. We have 4 children who are all active with our animals, as well as enjoy sports. Our son has a few learning disabilities so schools are very important when it comes to flexibility for him, and still being able to work for his sisters. We would much rather stay in Eastern Washington, and prefer Mid-Southern part of state. We hope to rent a home for the 1st year or so until we are established and then purchase a home (4-5 bedrooms, half acre or more, porch or patio or deck. A garage or barn, etc. We don’t mind fixer uppers either. We would like to keep it in the high 200′s-mid 300k range. We are used to Ohio weather here we had 85 degree heat and snow in the same week. We would like to avoid that, but is acceptable since its what we are used to lol We had been looking in areas such as Cheney, Medical Lake, etc. Could anyone recommend a few places for us to look into

    • Judith Mathat

      We have been traveling in the state for three years during our full time RVing lifestyle and many other states as well…I love Northwestern Washington. We are retired an do not need to work but want medical and box stores available withoutgong too far. Weather nearer to thebays is warmer and in the valleys a bit more so into the 80′s the fall and spring months are rainy but the winters are very mild as far as snow days are concerned and the lower temperatures are found the farther north you go. However that said the Seattle basin is a traffic monster and the city is beyond belief.. It sort of feels like going to the Bay Area in California andalso maybe San Diego. I love the way the hills, lakes and agriculture is so intertwined but the traffic is just too much for me. Perhaps for someone who is used to the east coast and lots of people and cars and busyness it would be fine. I like La Conner, a little old fishing village about 10 miles west of Mt. Vernon and also Birch Bay about 30 minutes northwest of Bellingham. Both Burlington and Mt. Vernon are larger communities on the mountain and lake side of the Interstate 5 but La Conner and Annacortes (gateway to Whidbey Island and it’s great places, 69 miles long and only accessible by vehicle though Annacortes, otherwise by ferry). This part of the coast has the bays and corridors to the San Juan Straits and lots of salt water fishing and over to Port Townsend and the Olympic side of the state (Sequim is a wonderful community, as is Port Townsend and Angeles. Depends on what you want for almost all the places are within a short drive to some water sport and winter sport or in the spring in the Skagit Valley the tulip fields and flowers and the enormous blooms in every yard and light ole making ones senses for color and scent wild. The organic farms and fruits and vegetables are EVERYWHERE as is other homegrown products and the antique stores and galleries for all types of artwork is everywhere. All in all, if you want to live in the country and have your own garden and fruit trees almost everywhere has that or condos and apartments and subdivisions and if you want waterfront ther are everywhere also. The lifestyle is important as lo9ng as you have to work for a livi9ng you need to stay within the Seattle Basin and if not anywhere within 30 miles of downtown Seattle will keep you busy with traffic and any type of recreation you ca imagine. Parks and biking and walking trails flourish from one area to the basin to another. great state, but now the kicker is, high sales taxes, waterfront property taxes are higher than across the street from the water. Make sure you do not buy on a slope or in a flood prone area. Get a history on the lake and river levels you want to live next to and because of the rain lots of newer subdivisions and even older ones on hillsides could be prone to slippage. Enjoy your search for there are many treasures in this state. We lived in Walla Walla for two years in the late 60′s early 70′s and it was the coldest place I ever lived and the strangest weather and hot in the summer. Have been along the Hood Canal and that is a lovely place as is the ocean beaches on the coast. I would love to spend the summers up here and the winters down in California and am not sure yet as there are a couple of places in Oregon I am looking into also as well as a few select places in Nevada along the Sierra Nevada Eastern side. California and Washington have similar sales tax rates and Oregon doe not have ANY sales taxes and their property taxes are famous for being high but I find WA and CA to be high also. Again enjoy your search.

  • boys3

    What about Spokane? Any feedback appreciated. We have two boys 7 and 9. Thanks.