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The Best Cities in Oregon for Young Families

Sept. 21, 2013
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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.

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.

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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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