Study: Best Cities to Raise a Family in Southern California

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Southern California has the winning combo of superior schools, diversity, and safe neighborhoods for young families. Read on to find the 10 best cities to raise a family in Southern California

In our evaluation of the best cities to raise a family in Southern California, the largest cities didn’t crack the top 10, making way for smaller cities where you can actually get to know your neighbors, find a relatively decent commute and affordable housing (the standards are way different here than in other parts of the country). Pack up your family's things and start searching for your forever home, because you’re headed to SoCal.

Study Methodology

There are many cities in Southern California but for the purposes of our study, we've only included those with a population of 25,000 or more. To find the top 10 cities for our rankings, we looked at these five factors:

  1. Education
  2. Commute Time
  3. Household Type
  4. Residency
  5. Housing Costs

Southern California is home to some of the best schools in the state as well as several renowned universities, including USC and UCLA. If you're looking for an area where there's a strong emphasis on education, our rankings reflect the cities with the highest percentage of adults who earned a high school diploma or better. Generally, the more educated a city's residents are, the more it adds to the overall quality of life.

Los Angeles is notorious for traffic congestion. We know that you value your time so we chose only those cities with the best average commute for our list.

All kinds of people come to Southern California but families tend to gravitate toward certain cities. Moving is always tough but settling down in an area where there are lots of other families can make the transition easier for everyone. We considered the percentage of family households with children under 18 to pinpoint those areas with the largest kid population.

Countless people move in and out of California each year, especially around bigger cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. Getting to know the people in your neighborhood can be difficult if people are constantly moving in and out. Our study takes into account the percentage of residents still living in the same home they were a year ago to find those areas with the lowest turnover rate.

Southern California's housing market is exceptionally diverse and home prices vary widely from one city to another. We narrowed the field for our study based partly on the percentage of income residents spend on housing in each city.

10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in Southern California

10. Santee

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 90.6%
  • Commute Time: 23.9 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 35.6%
  • Residing in Same Home: 87.8%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 27.4%

Finding a quiet country setting in the midst of Southern California's hustle and bustle may seem impossible but Santee manages to pull it off. Just over 55,000 people live in this still growing city located less than 20 miles from San Diego. With plenty of green spaces, it's perfect for getting back to nature. If you're concerned about education, Santee's School District comes highly rated, earning local, station and national recognition for academic achievement.

Did You Know: Early settler George A. Cowles was responsible for introducing several new tree species to the area, including the magnolia and pomegranate.

9. Walnut

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 92.4%
  • Commute Time: 35.4 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 39.8%
  • Residing in Same Home: 92.7%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 26.2%

Peace and quiet are among the top reasons why families choose to move to Walnut, and this charming little community offers a healthy portion of both. Nearly 40% of Walnut's family households include children and almost 93% of residents have been in the same home for at least a year, which is a sign of how stable the area is. The city's proximity to Los Angeles means home prices are on the higher end of the scale, but it's offset by the fact that residents earn a median income of over $102,000.

Did You Know: Walnut was originally called Rancho de Nogales (Ranch of the Walnut Trees).

8. Cypress

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 91.9%
  • Commute Time: 28.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 35.4%
  • Residing in Same Home: 89.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 25.6%

Over the years, Cypress has had many names, including Waterville and Dairy City, but today it's best known as a safe and welcoming environment for families. Nearly 50,000 people live here and the wealth of job opportunities continues to attract new residents. The average commute takes less than 30 minutes, although if you work in L.A. you'll need to give yourself more time. Residents spend a quarter of their pay on housing and even though the market's heating up, there are still deals to be found.

Did You Know: Cypress is less than five miles from Knott's Berry Farm, one of SoCal's most frequented family attractions.

7. Rancho Palos Verdes

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 98.1%
  • Commute Time: 31.8 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 32.7%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 24.5%

Rancho Palos Verdes is the perfect spot for people who crave beachfront access and stunning views. This well-heeled community is home to more than 42,000 residents who come to enjoy the cool coastal breezes and soak up the Southern California sun. The local neighborhoods are extremely safe and feature gorgeous homes, many of which are valued at more than $1 million. Top-rated golf courses and the Terranea Resort bring in a lot of tourist traffic but it doesn't detract from the city's serene beauty.

Did You Know: The Palos Verdes Nature Preserve is the largest of its kind in the region.

6. Rancho Santa Margarita

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 95.1%
  • Commute Time: 28.2 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 44.4%
  • Residing in Same Home: 88.3%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 28.3%

Rancho Santa Margarita sits nearly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, close to Mission Viejo. There are almost 50,000 people who call the city home, including an overwhelming number of families with children. The city is primarily composed of planned residential neighborhoods, although there are plenty of places to work, shop and dine. Compared to some of our other cities, the amount you'll pay for housing is higher but you'll also earn more, since the median income exceeds $102,000.

Did You Know: If you're out and about, you may catch a glimpse of some of the Real Housewives of Orange County, who film parts of the show here.

5. Moorpark

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 88.9%
  • Commute Time: 26.8 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 41.6%
  • Residing in Same Home: 90.6%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 27.1%

If safety is at the top of your list when choosing a new city, Moorpark is just what you're looking for. The city, which has the lowest overall crime rate in Ventura County, also ranks well nationally compared to similarly sized areas. The schools here get an A+ for academics, and they offer extracurricular activities to fit just about every interest. There are a myriad of family-centric events held throughout the year, including the Country Days and the Apricot Festival. You're also close to the Happy Camp Canyon Park, which is ideal for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Did You Know: From 1961 until 1993, Moorpark was home to Egg City, the largest egg farm in the world.

4. Lake Forest

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 92.6%
  • Commute Time: 25.7 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 36.8%
  • Residing in Same Home: 89.1%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 26.6%

Lake Forest is just down the road from Rancho Santa Margarita, but it scored a higher spot in our rankings based on the average commute and housing costs. The local housing market features an eclectic mix of upscale homes, sprawling ranches and luxury apartments, so you're sure to find something that fits your budget. If you're looking to have some weekend fun with the kids, the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and Limestone Canyon Regional Parks are both close by.

Did You Know: The main campus of Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church is located in Lake Forest and averages nearly 20,000 attendees each week.

3. South Pasadena

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 96.9%
  • Commute Time: 27.9 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 34.7%
  • Residing in Same Home: 86.4%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 22%

Once part of the much larger metropolitan area of Pasadena, South Pasadena is a modern city with a small town attitude. Although it's less than 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, it truly is a world apart when it comes to safety, education and the general atmosphere. South Pasadena's fashionable neighborhoods are popular among the A-list crowd, but families won't have any trouble finding an affordable place to settle down.

Did You Know: South Pasadena is known for being the oldest self-builder of floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade.

2. Manhattan Beach

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 98.1%
  • Commute Time: 27.5 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 31.7%
  • Residing in Same Home: 88.6%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 23.2%

Manhattan Beach is number two on our list and the most affluent city in our study overall. Residents are very well educated, earning a median income of nearly $135,000, and home prices are among the highest in the region. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District ranks third overall in the state and there are several private and public schools serving the community. The average commute is pretty decent, and you're not far from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Malibu.

Did You Know: Manhattan Beach is a popular filming location for movies and TV, making it great spot for celebrity star-gazing.

1. Poway

  • High School Graduate or Higher: 93.7%
  • Commute Time: 23.9 minutes
  • Households With Children Under 18: 38.4%
  • Residing in Same Home: 87.9%
  • Income Spent on Housing: 26.3%

While many of the cities on our list are located around the Los Angeles area, you have to head back towards San Diego to find our number one pick. Poway is just a little further north of Santee and its central location makes it convenient for exploring the beaches along the cost or hiking the trails of the Cleveland National Forest. You won't have to worry about making a slow crawl through traffic on the drive to work and while homes are more expensive, living here won't put you in the poorhouse.

Did You Know: Poway is called "The City in the Country" in honor of its rural roots.


With a combined population of nearly 5 million, Los Angeles and San Diego overshadow the 10 cities on our list in size. But, based on the criteria we used for our rankings, they don't quite measure up. While there's no denying the popularity of SoCal's largest cities, we think that as far as families go, the places we've profiled are a much better fit.

Top 10 Cities for Families in Southern California

RankCity% High School Graduate or HigherAverage Commute TimeHousehold with ChildrenResiding in Same House Last YearIncome Spent on Housing
1Poway93.7%23.938.4%87.9%26.3%
2Manhattan Beach98.1%27.531.7%88.6%23.2%
3South Pasadena96.9%27.934.7%86.4%22%
4Lake Forest92.6%25.736.8%89.1%26.6%
5Moorpark88.9%26.841.6%90.6%27.1%
6Rancho Santa Margarita95.1%28.244.4%88.3%28.3%
7Rancho Palos Verdes98.1%31.832.7%90.0%24.5%
8Cypress91.9%28.535.4%89.4%25.6%
9Walnut92.4%35.439.8%92.7%26.2%
10Santee90.6%23.935.6%87.8%27.4%

Top 3 Small Cities for Families in Southern California

RankCity% High School Graduate or HigherAverage Commute TimeHousehold with ChildrenResiding in Same House Last YearIncome Spent on Housing
1San Marino96.2%25.337.7%90.4%24.7%
2La Cañada Flintridge97.3%27.743.1%94.8%27.4%
3El Segundo96.3%21.528.9%87.0%22.3%

Editor's Note: The minimum population requirement to be considered in this study was 25,000. San Marino, La Cañada Flintridge, and El Segundo fell below our study's official population requirement.

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy decisions. (read more)

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