Best Cities for Young Families in California

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best cities young families california

California offers a wealth of opportunities for young families, from good jobs with high salaries to a range of outdoor recreation opportunities and great schools. Home values here have remained high, and the unemployment rate continues to drop.

NerdWallet’s analysis

So where can young families get the best education for their kids and the most bang for their housing buck? NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best cities for young families in California.

Does the city have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This nonprofit compares a 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.

Can you afford to live there? We looked at median home values in each city and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.

Is the city growing and prospering? We assessed a city’s economy by looking at average annual household income and income growth over the past decade. Higher incomes and stronger growth led to a higher overall score.

» MORE: Best mortgage lenders in California

Best cities for young families in California

1. Clovis

This city in the San Joaquin Valley offers affordable homes, good schools and a good quality of life for families. Clovis, which bills itself as the “gateway to the Sierras,” is home to 285 acres of parks and trails. Family friendly activities include farmers markets in the summer and BIG Hat Days in April, which brings thousands of people downtown for art, food and music. There’s also the annual Clovis Rodeo. The graduation rate for Clovis area high schools was 92.6% for the class of 2011-12, according to the California Department of Education Data Reporting Office. That’s much higher than the statewide graduation rate of 78.5%. Salaries here are on the upswing: The median annual household income grew 54.4% from 1999 to 2011.

2. Folsom

Strong schools, parks and jobs await young families in Folsom, which is about 20 miles east of Sacramento. Local graduation rates here are well above the state average: In 2011-12, Folsom High School and Vista del Lago High School had graduation rates of 98.4% and 99.1%, respectively, according to state data. Folsom also made NerdWallet’s list of top 10 California cities for job seekers — boosted by Intel’s research and development offices and Jadoo Power Systems, a solar energy equipment supplier. Families can enjoy the outdoors at Castle Park, and in the winter, there’s ice skating at Sutter Street Ice Rink in the city’s historic district.

3. Yuba City

Families seeking affordable housing and opportunities for access to growing incomes will feel right at home in Yuba City. Located about 45 miles north of Sacramento, median annual household incomes here grew 48.6% from 1999 to 2011. The median home value was $227,400 in 2011. For family fun in the water, Yuba City offers Gauche Aquatic Park, which has a 25-foot waterslide, a kids pool and a lap pool. The city is bordered by the Sutter Buttes, where families can go on hikes guided by the Sutter Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the region.

4. Murrieta

For families looking south for affordable housing and activities, Riverside County’s Murrieta has lot to offer. The city has a schedule of family events throughout the year. Graduation rates at Murrieta’s three high schools were 98%, 94.5% and 96.8% respectively, according to state data. The median annual household income, at $80,792, was higher than other top cities on this list. However, because the city is located in the South Coast Air Quality Basin, air quality is routinely poor. The American Lung Association gave the Murrieta-Riverside County area an “F” for air quality in 2013. Murrieta is working with state and federal authorities to meet air quality requirements. The city also adopted a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has sought to improve air quality by conducting impact studies before new construction.

5. Irvine

For families seeking diversity, Irvine features community centers for a variety of ethnic groups. The median home value here is $661,700, the highest value in our top 10 cities. Schools here are excellent: The district received high marks from GreatSchools, and 85.1% of students who graduated in 2009 went to college, according to state data. Irvine is close to Disneyland, and the city is home to major employers including the University of California, Irvine; Blizzard Entertainment; and Kaiser Permanente.

6. Lake Forest

This city south of Irvine offers a similar lifestyle, but at a lower cost. The median home value here is lower than Irvine, coming in at $543,600, and the median annual household income is slightly higher than Irvine at $94,632. Lake Forest was also named one of NerdWallet’s top 10 cities for job seekers in California. The graduation rate was 95.4% for the class of 2012, according to state data, and schools scored an 8 out of 10 at GreatSchools. Lake Forest also has a program specifically designed for teens, where students can get after-school homework help, learn about volunteer opportunities and take day trips throughout the region. Families with young kids can spend the day picnicking at Heritage Hill Historical Park or talking with parrots at Omar’s Exotic Birds.

7. Redlands

Located in the large swath of communities between Los Angeles and San Diego, Redlands offers affordable housing, growing salaries and good schools. The median home value was $340,600, well below the higher values in Lake Forest and Irvine. Redlands is home to Esri, a technology company that creates GIS mapping systems and software. The community also has a rich history with ties to the California citrus industry, and today, many homes of citrus tycoons are on display in Redlands.

8. Roseville

This city northeast of Sacramento features over 4,000 acres of parklands and 31 miles of trails. Families here benefit from high-scoring schools and high-paying employers including Hewlett-Packard and Kaiser Permanente. Roseville has renovated the Vernon Street Town Square, which hosts concerts, outdoor movies, kids programs every Wednesday during the summer and includes a water play area.

9. Davis

This community near Sacramento is home to one of the largest campuses in the University of California system. Families here can play at 400 acres of parks and participate in a variety of activities, including seasonal berry picking. Indoor activities include Explorit, a hands-on science museum. Downtown Davis features outdoor concerts, parks, farmers markets and shopping. Buying a home here can be challenging for families — the median annual household income is $61,182 while the median home value is $560,500. But families here get the benefits of strong schools and proximity to jobs in Sacramento.

10. Walnut Creek

Located east of San Francisco, Walnut Creek offers young families strong salaries — $84,722 was the median annual household income in 2011 — and access to the amenities of the nearby larger city. Young families can enjoy weekly farmers markets or take part in events at the Lesher Center for the Arts. Schools here are top-notch: The district scored a 9 out of 10 at GreatSchools for its standardized test scores.

Best cities for young families in California

Scroll right to view all data categories.

RankCityNearest big cityGreatSchools ratingMedian home valueMonthly homeowner costsMedian household incomeGrowth from 1999 to 2011Score
4MurrietaSan Diego8$320,600$2,537$80,79232.6%56.55
5IrvineLos Angeles10$661,700$3,032$92,59928.5%56.04
6Lake ForestLos Angeles8$543,600$2,584$94,63239.2%55.99
7RedlandsLos Angeles7$340,600$2,279$68,01541.2%55.66
10Walnut CreekSan Francisco9$614,000$2,927$84,72234.0%54.71
11Chula VistaSan Diego7$401,000$2,667$65,52646.1%54.46
12AlhambraLos Angeles8$505,600$2,228$52,71734.4%53.72
13CarlsbadSan Diego9$633,200$2,945$85,74331.6%53.50
14FullertonLos Angeles8$540,900$2,697$69,43238.1%53.41
16Redondo BeachLos Angeles9$745,000$3,249$94,98237.3%52.94
19Chino HillsLos Angeles8$536,500$2,762$101,90530.0%52.33
20UplandLos Angeles7$450,800$2,428$67,44938.4%52.03


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures: 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 values are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Monthly homeowner costs are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Median annual household income data are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Median annual income change from 1999 to 2011 are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Folsom, California, image via iStock.