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The Best Towns in Washington for Raising Kids

June 24, 2013
Mortgages, Studies
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In the northwest corner of America, the raw beauty and rich culture of Washington remain a secret to many. Yet, as the state’s cities continue to grow, word is getting out: Washington is an amazing place for active families.

With metropolitan cities resting at the foot of mountains and many award-winning school districts, limiting the final number to 10 was a challenge.

NerdWallet’s analysis

NerdWallet examined the data on Washington with these key questions in mind:

Does the town have good schools? We used scores from GreatSchools, a nonprofit that rates public schools in a given town with their standardized test scores. Those results were then compared to the state average to arrive at a final rating from 1 to 10, with 10 the highest. Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.

How affordable are the homes? We looked at the cost of living, including ongoing, monthly homeowner costs — mortgage payments, taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuels and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.

Is the town growing and prospering? We evaluated a town’s economy with its median annual household income and income growth over the last decade. A higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Don’t miss our 2014 rankings of this study.

The best towns in Washington for raising kids

1. Maple Valley

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 city boasts affordable homes, award-winning schools and access to outdoor recreation. Both Tahoma High School and Glacier Park Elementary have embraced the surrounding mountains, rivers and valleys as their living classroom and pioneered environmental education. Students directly apply what they’ve learned with projects that use 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.

2. Woodinville

Woodinville is well known in Washington as the site of Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, Redhook Brewery and The Herbfarm, a destination restaurant, but it’s also known for its great quality of life. Less than 20 miles from Seattle, Woodinville maintains a thriving and close community of over 10,000 residents. Parents are actively involved in the improvement of local schools that are already high performing at every level by state standards. And the winery organizes a summer concert series, bringing in world-renowned musicians while the brewery hosts outdoor movies.

3. Issaquah

About 17 miles west of Seattle, Issaquah, near the tip of Lake Sammamish, offers plenty of family-friendly excursions by lake or by trail. Issaquah School District provides students at all levels with a supportive, holistic education with many extracurricular opportunities to spur creativity. The Boeing Co. and Microsoft are top employers of Issaquah residents and the city remains the headquarters of several large corporations, including Costco, which explains why this suburb is among the fastest-growing cities in the country. Yet, as the number of residents increases, the community continues to strengthen, offering 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. This area south of Olympia is home to beautiful scenery and high-performing schools. Home costs are lower than other towns on our list, making Tumwater an excellent choice for families at different income levels. The city offers a full range of programming to engage the whole family in activities.

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5. Bainbridge Island

Watching the sunset over Puget Sound from the vantage of Bainbridge Island is a sight not to be missed. Bainbridge Island’s high school consistently ranks among the top in Washington while its sailing team dominates races. This elegant island community is a 35-minute ferry ride to Seattle. Marketplaces sprout from different corners of the island offering shops and 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 lakeshore until the walking and biking trail connects with Lake Union, closer to Seattle. Lake Forest Park hosts a bustling farmers market and town activities. It’s also about 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, Concur Technologies and more. The school system excels with a near-perfect rating from GreatSchools. The city offers new restaurants, pubs, theaters and shops. 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 Olympic Mountains, 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 parks. The town is also well known for its golf course at the Golf Club at Newcastle.

9. Mukilteo

At “Mukilteo by the Sea” the houses dot 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 is 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 Ivar’s, a beloved Northwest seafood restaurant chain.

10. Lynden

About 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.

The best towns in Washington for raising kids

Scroll right to see all data categories.

RankCityNearest big cityGreatSchools ratingMedian home valueMonthly owner costsMedian household incomeGrowth 1999-2011Score
1Maple ValleySeattle9$342,400$2,349$98,26446.32%66.05
5Bainbridge IslandSeattle10$610,300$2,669$96,13037.11%62.04
6Lake Forest ParkSeattle9$459,100$2,319$100,97236.17%61.57


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

GreatSchools 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, monthly homeowner costs, median annual household income and income changes from 1999 to 2011 are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

This analysis included 111 Washington cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with populations over 10,000 were considered.

Issaquah, Washington, image via iStock.