Study: Best Cities for Young Families in California

10 Best Up-and-Coming Cities for Young Families in California
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The allure of California is strong: its golden beaches, great weather throughout most of the state, and tons of entertainment make the area a great place to raise a family. But the massive size may make it difficult to narrow down which metropolitan area is the best choice for you and your family. We've looked at a variety of factors to help you in your search for the perfect family-friendly city in the Golden State.

Study Methodology

  • School Ratings
  • Crime
  • Commute Time
  • Number of Young Children

First we used data from the California Department of Education to find the best schools in the state’s 100 most populous cities. We ranked cities by their school districts’ percentage of elementary schools that passed their Academic Performance Index (API) growth targets. We focused on elementary schools since young families are likely to move as they expand and shift into higher income brackets. API growth targets helped us identify cities with schools that are on an upward trajectory in terms of performance.

Safety is important to any family, so we used data from the FBI to find the cities with the lowest violent crime, measured by the rate of crimes per 100,000 residents. For context, the national average is 387.1. We also know that every extra minute you can spend with your family counts, so we next looked at each area’s average commute time in minutes, provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Finally, we looked at the percentage of the population from newborn to 9 years old, to make sure your kids will have fun with friends their age as they grow up. This information also came from the Census Bureau, and along with the commute time, refers to counties rather than individual cities.

10 Best California Cities for Young Families

1. Clovis (Fresno County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 96.9%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 223.9
  • Average Commute Time: 22.8 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn to 9 Years Old: 16.8%

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Clovis offers close access to California’s biggest cities with the perks of smaller city living. And it’s a good fit for young families: great schools combined with plenty of kids and a low commute time make Clovis top of our list. While agriculture is a major part of the local economy, other major employers include government agencies, healthcare facilities, and several nonprofit organizations. Get in the community spirit by keeping an eye on the city calendar, which includes festivals like Big Hat Days and ClovisFest as well as a farmer’s market on Friday nights.

2. Thousand Oaks (Ventura County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 64.7%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 121.5
  • Average Commute Time: 24.5 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn to 9 Years Old : 13.7%

Thousand Oaks is a safe city with short commutes and good schools. Plus, it’s only 35 minutes outside of Los Angeles, making it a good choice for city commuters. It also boasts warm weather year-round, so your kids can burn off some energy outside throughout the year. Consider enrolling them in the city’s youth sports activities, such as soccer, softball, lacrosse, and even ice hockey.

3. Irvine (Orange County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 86.4%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 50.6
  • Average Commute Time: 26.7 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.8%

Not only does Irvine have the lowest crime rate in the state, it also has one of the lowest in the entire nation. The city boasts top-notch schools and tons of major company headquarters, such as Vizio, Taco Bell, and Obsidian Entertainment. In addition to job opportunities, there are different types of houses to choose from; Irvine was planned with separate villages designed in different architectural themes, including Craftsman and Spanish/Tuscan styles.

4. Chula Vista (San Diego County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 77.3%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 232.6
  • Average Commute Time: 24.6 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.9%

Chula Vista ranks particularly well in both schools and commute time, making it a great community for families in the San Diego area. Not only that, the city offers several family-friendly attractions, such as the Chula Vista Nature Center, Otay Valley Regional Park, and a marina. There are also many festivals throughout the year, including the Lemon Festival and Rose Festival.

5. Carlsbad (San Diego County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 73.1%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 245.6
  • Average Commute Time: 24.6 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.9%

Though famous for its luxury resorts, Carlsbad is also a top choice for young families in the San Diego area. Residents will enjoy great schools for their kids and short commutes; there are a host of companies headquartered in the city, ranging from Jenny Craig to Callaway Golf Co. And if that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Carlsbad is home to Legoland. Better not tell the kids until you’re ready to move.

6. Simi Valley (Ventura County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 42.9%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 111.3
  • Average Commute Time: 24.5 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 13.7%

Though Simi Valley’s schools overall ranked in the lower half of the 100 cities we reviewed, there are some very strong districts, so you’ll want to look carefully at the school zones when considering a move. On the plus side, the city ranks as one of the safest in California, an important factor for any family. With over 20 city parks, you’ll have multiple options for enjoying the mild weather, in addition to a major trail system for hiking, horseback riding, and bike rides.

7. Huntington Beach (Orange County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 71.4%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 160.8
  • Average Commute Time: 26.7 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.8%

Southern California comes out on top again with Huntington Beach at number seven. Lined with miles of beaches, this is a great city for any sand- and surf-loving family. Ranking high in schools and crime, Huntington Beach offers tons of fun for every member of your clan, such as the year-round Surf City Nights, which is essentially a small carnival, and a weekly farmer’s market. Other events include car shows throughout the year and a Cruise of Lights Boat Tour during the winter.

8. Glendale (Los Angeles County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 95%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 119.5
  • Average Commute Time: 29.6 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.8%

Though its commute time is the longest of our top 10, Glendale has some of the best schools in the entire state as well as a low crime. There are also some notable companies headquartered in the city, including DreamWorks and Walt Disney Imagineering, which could certainly cut back on your driving time if you’re lucky enough to snag a job at one of those places. You’ll also want to check out the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, which is not only the burial ground of scores of celebrities, but also has a fine arts museum.

Did You Know: With an average 29.6 minute commute, you might want to use a gas rewards credit card to save money on gas. Compare the top offers here and read this to learn 18 other ways to save money on gas.

9. Newport Beach (Orange County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 63.6%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 115.7
  • Average Commute Time: 26.7 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.8%

Newport Beach ranks well across the board but stands out for its particularly low crime rate. With miles of coastline to enjoy, this is a great place for any beach-loving family. Kids will especially enjoy the Balboa Fun Zone on the waterfront. The city’s persistently mild temperatures ensure you can comfortably enjoy all of the city’s outdoor attractions throughout the year.

10. San Marcos (San Diego County)

  • Percentage of Elementary Schools Passing API Targets: 63.6%
  • Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 residents): 280
  • Average Commute Time: 24.6 minutes
  • Percentage of Children Newborn Through 9 Years Old: 12.9%

We round out our top 10 with San Marcos, located in the northern part of San Diego County. Ranking solidly in all categories, the city does particularly well with commute time. But don’t waste those extra spare minutes cooking in the kitchen; instead, take advantage of the city’s Old Restaurant Row. Cycling enthusiasts will appreciate the miles of bike trails throughout the city, and you’ll definitely want to take the kids to witness the panoramic views of Double Peak Park.


While this certainly is not an exhaustive list of great Californian cities for young families, it’s a good starting point for any family looking to settle down. For various reasons, most of our top 10 list focused on Southern California, but the central California city of Tracy nearly made it by ranking 12th. It should also be noted that the school ratings were based on each school district’s performance, and each district may serve more than one city or just part of a city. We suggest analyzing individual school districts and not just the entire city when considering a move.

Sources:

  • California Department of Education
  • FBI 2012 Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau

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