The Best Cities in Oregon for Young Families

oregon state

by on September 21, 2013

Families visit Oregon for its 400-mile coastline, mountains and hip cities like Portland, but they settle down here for more.

With that in mind, we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:

  1. Does the city 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 to 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 median home values in each city 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 city growing and prospering? We assessed a city’s economy by looking at median 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 here as well as our mortgage rates calculator for more information.

The Best Cities for Young Families

1. Sublimity

Sublimity is small rural community outside Salem, in the foothills of the Oregon Cascades. The local elementary school excels on standardized testing, so much that it has earned a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools and an “Outstanding” grade on its report card from the state government.

2. Sutherlin

Outdoorsy families can find a lot to love in Sutherlin. The Umpqua River is a short drive away, where residents can fish, and the Cooper Creek Reservoir gives locals a place to swim, boat and water-ski.

3. Enterprise 

Enterprise is a small city in Wallowa County, just five miles north of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, known for its alpine lakes and meadows. The city’s high school boasts a 100% graduation rate and a low student-to-teacher ratio, at 13:1.

4. Gold Beach

Curry County claims the highest median age in the state, but there are still plenty of opportunities for young families, especially for lovers of the outdoors. Gold Beach is on the Oregon Coast, where locals can fish for salmon, boat, windsurf and more. The community’s largest employer is the government, both local and federal, and big industries include tourism, agriculture and sport fishing.

5. Bandon

Families who want an escape from big-city life can find opportunity in Bandon. This small beach community sits on the southwest coast of Oregon; the prime location gives residents a place to surf, crab, fish and more.

6. Oakridge

Oakridge is a small mountain community just below the snow line and above the fog line. This city of 3,200 people received a $1 million donation when it was featured in the season finale of ABC’s Secret Millionaire earlier this month. Residents received money themselves, as did the local government, which will use the funding to purchase a new ambulance, among other things. 

7. West Linn

West Linn is just outside Portland and its schools are top-notch. As a whole, they earned a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools because of student performance on standardized tests. West Linn High School scored 10 out of 10, and it can also claim quite a few more accolades. For example, in 2011 and 2012, the school made the AP Honor Roll for overall performance on AP tests as well as for increasing enrollment in AP classes.

8. Baker City

Baker City residents need only drive a few miles to ski, boat, fish and camp. The city has long had a stake in the agriculture business, and it has expanded into tourism, manufacturing and other industries.

9. John Day

Schools in John Day are excellent. A local high school, Grant Union, has done extremely well. Its graduation rate is 92.5% – 25 points higher than the state average. In athletics, too, students have excelled. The baseball team holds the 2013 Class 2A/1A State Championship.

10. Sherwood

Sherwood is a half-hour drive from Portland, and it is home to excellent schools. Sherwood High School earned a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools because of its performance on standardized tests. 93% of the Class of 2011 planned to go on to higher education. On SATs, the Class of 2012 outperformed both the state and national averages in math, reading and writing.

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 Sublimity Salem 9 $260,300 $1,692 $62,500 27.5% 63.6
2 Sutherlin Roseburg 7 $161,500 $1,173 $43,941 51.2% 63.6
3 Enterprise 9 $157,500 $1,194 $35,087 11.6% 63.1
4 Gold Beach 6 $241,000 $1,358 $51,359 69.8% 61.6
5 Bandon 8 $225,500 $1,240 $38,156 29.4% 61.4
6 Oakridge Eugene 6 $155,200 $1,142 $41,406 55.5% 60.8
7 West Linn Portland 9 $406,700 $2,408 $92,342 28.2% 59.8
8 Baker City 7 $118,700 $1,017 $35,458 22.2% 59.2
9 John Day 8 $118,800 $985 $32,546 1.9% 59.1
10 Sherwood Portland 8 $324,000 $2,029 $79,209 26.7% 58.2


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)

146 Oregon cities and areas designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 2,000 were considered.

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  • Guest

    This list is laughable. The fact that Oakridge, Gold Beach, and Sutherlin are on this list

  • Jane Clemo

    This list is laughable. The fact that you put Oakridge, Sutherlin, and Gold Beach on a list of best cities for young families just shows how little you really know about Oregon. There’s more to making a good city than statistics on schools, incomes and home prices. Did you do any research on Bend, Corvallis, or Eugene? Any one of these would be a better choice than what you’ve got on this list. Your article is pathetic.

    • NerdWallet

      Hi Jane,

      After we run the data, we also get in touch with natives to confirm what our numbers show.

      We considered income, affordability and the quality of schools when identifying family-friendly communities. Eugene, for example, doesn’t quite fit that bill. Income there is not as high as that in the communities that made the list — although Eugene is still a great community in its own right because of its size (it’s the second largest in Oregon) and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

      • Jane Clemo

        Have you looked at available jobs in areas like John Day, Oakridge, Sutherlin, or Gold Beach? Where is the wage earner for these young families supposed to work? I can tell you first hand, if you live in Oakridge that wage earner will be driving to Eugene or Cottage Grove every single day to work. Oakridge is a dying former logging town. There is no industry there. There are no family wage jobs. One or both parents will be commuting 1 hour each way on a windy 2 lane rural highway that gets rain, snow and ice in the winter. So, what about child care for this young family while Mom and Dad are driving back and forth to Eugene everyday?

        Sutherlin is a bit better choice, but again, there’s no family wage jobs in Sutherlin. It’s only a 20 minute drive to Roseburg and there are some family wage jobs in Roseburg, but if you’re going to commute to Roseburg everyday, you might as well live in Roseburg with your young family.

        Let’s look at Gold Beach. What are the family wage jobs in Gold Beach? Again, the wage earner(s) will be commuting up and down highway 101 to Brookings or to Port Orford. Once again, these are long drives on windy 2 lane rural highways.

        I can’t speak to John Day as I haven’t been out there recently, but it’s way out in Eastern Oregon far from any major city.

        You absolutely cannot make any recommendations on where to live in Oregon or create such a laughable list entitled “Best Cities for Young Family’s in Oregon” by just sitting behind a computer looking at statistics. It’s disingenuous and dishonest. You harm your credibility by making such claims.

        What’s my list of Best Cities for Young Families? Well, I’ve lived in Oregon for 10 years now in Elkton, Eugene, Junction City, and now Bend. I don’t even have to look at statistics to tell you hands down my top pick would be Bend and Roseburg would be second. Ashland and Medford are also great. If you like little towns and don’t mind commuting, Elkton is also a nice place to live.

        I urge you to go actually visit these cities do some research on jobs, activities, and infrastructure and use this first hand knowledge to make some real comparisons instead of making uninformed claims based on meaningless statistics.

        • NerdWallet

          Hi Jane,

          The communities we considered didn’t have to have jobs themselves. Often commuter communities will make these lists because they’re supported by larger cities and towns (like some of the places you mention).

          In any case, these lists are by no means definitive, and we recognize that not every resident will agree with the rankings. In general, our hope, primarily, is to make data and numbers more transparent and accessible. Principally, this means looking at home values in context, not just as a cost in a vacuum — it matters a whole lot more to consider how far your dollar goes in an a given community. That’s why we look at median household income next to median home values.

          As always, happy to answer any more questions.

          • jgnc

            You can’t commute to Gold Beech from anywhere. This list is silly… The unemployment rate in Curry County is off the charts. Most of these towns are terrible. You didn’t include, Bend, Beaverton or Hillsboro…