The Best Towns in Washington for Raising Kids

washington state


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


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.

  • 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

  • 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