We all have fond memories of our childhood hometown — summer nights playing outside with the neighbor kids until dusk, pancakes at the local diner with mom and dad, and the special teachers who stayed late to go over a tricky assignment.
Cities are so much more than a collection of houses, schools and businesses; they help shape our personality and are often a large part of our identity. Knowing the important role that place plays in growing up, Livability’s data scientists and editors once again searched the country looking for the absolute best places to raise a family.
There are so many factors that contribute to having a happy family life and childhood, which is why we used a diverse set of kid-friendly measures to come up with our 2018 list, such as the availability (and affordability) of day care, the number of other kids to play with, the quality of local schools, transportation options, cost of living, and number of parks and libraries.
And to really get at the heart of what makes these communities so exceptional, we chatted with true local “experts” — kids from each city — about why they love growing up there. We even factored in the number of nearby candy stores. In fact, this is Livability’s most kid-centric list ever.
Curious to learn which cities rose to the top? Read on to discover the 10 Best Places to Raise a Family in 2018…
- Number of potential playmates (percent of the population that is under age 6)
- Quality of public schools
- Measures of children’s health
- Affordability of housing and transportation options
- Cost of child care
- Number of day care options, parks and libraries
- And, because we know what really matters to kids: the number of candy stores
10. Bozeman, Mont.
Bozeman is more like a giant outdoor playground than a city. This southern Montana community has an average commute time of less than 15 minutes, which means there’s more time to spend together as a family skiing, fishing, rafting, golfing and hiking (plus, it’s not far from Yellowstone National Park). A tightknit city with endless opportunities for outdoor fun, Bozeman makes frequent appearances on Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list.
Bozeman is home to Montana State University, which is the city’s largest employer, as well as a burgeoning tech scene. On top of that, the population is still under 50,000 people, so you can easily get to know your neighbors and feel a genuine sense of community in Bozeman.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: If your kids are obsessed with dinosaurs (as many are), you’ll want to visit the Museum of the Rockies, an award-winning Smithsonian affiliate with a massive collection of fossils and a giant T. rex skeleton.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: The Nova Cafe, an all-day breakfast joint popular among kids for its Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Grab a cocktail at Bozeman Spirits Distillery in the city’s historic downtown, then peruse the shops and art galleries before dinner at Plonk.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: You’ll be the coolest parent ever if you make a trip to The Candy Jar, where kids can design (and then eat) their own custom candy bar.
Coolest Indoor Playground: Spire Climbing and Fitness, an indoor rock climbing gym with routes for every member of the family — from beginner to advanced.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): The aptly named White Dog Brewing Company has a dog-friendly Bozeman taproom. But that’s not all: each label on their cans was inspired by a real-life dog.
9. Morgantown, W.Va.
It’s nearly impossible for kids to get bored while living in Morgantown, a small city in northern West Virginia on the Monongahela River near the Pennsylvania border, and one of Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live in 2018.
There’s always something for families to do here, whether it’s attending cultural and sporting events at West Virginia University, fishing at Cheat Lake or experimenting at the Spark! Imagination and Science Center. Beyond that, parents can rest easy knowing that Morgantown High School came in at No. 1 among all West Virginia high schools in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent rankings and boasts an above-average 89% graduation rate.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Head over to White Park, where the family can cross-country ski on more than 5 miles of trails or skate at the indoor ice arena. During the warmer months, White Park’s 170 acres are fun to explore by hiking or biking.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Mountain State Brewing Company, which has tons of board games for kids to play while Mom and Dad sample a flight of craft beer and munch on an artisan flatbread.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Take in the sweeping views of the Appalachian Mountains at Forks of Cheat Winery, then head to Sargasso for an amazing dinner.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Pay a visit to Tailpipes for a milkshake made with your choice of Fruity Pebbles, Crunch Berries, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Nutella and other goodies.
Coolest Indoor Playground: With trampolines, a foam pit, an arcade and a rock wall, Launch Pad Trampoline Park is perfect for burning off some extra energy on a rainy day.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Hike around Dorsey’s Knob Park, a hilly, 70-acre park that offers humans (and fur babies) an unobstructed view of Morgantown and the surrounding valleys.
8. Fayetteville, Ark.
This charming city in northwest Arkansas is home to the University of Arkansas and approximately 86,000 residents. Families who live in Fayetteville can take advantage of 37 city parks, 84 miles of trails, 15 natural areas and tons of other places to play outside (plus, it’s a quick 40-minute drive to Ozark National Forest).
The city also has a thriving arts scene, plus lots of fun traditions that all generations can appreciate at University of Arkansas sporting events (like the “Woo Pig Sooie” hog call). On top of that, the Fayetteville metropolitan area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.5%.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Sign up for a class or an event as a family at Terra Studios, a combination art gallery, cafe and studio where anyone can learn a new skill, such as how to make a fairy house or dye silk scarfs.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Catfish Hole, where kids under the age of four eat free and everyone can chow down on catfish, shrimp and hush puppies.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): In the summer, catch a movie in the car at 112 Drive-In, where you can snack on popcorn and other concession stand-style foods. The audio for the movies plays through your car radio.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Rick’s Bakery, which has been around since 1980 and has colorful display cases full of decadent pastries, doughnuts, cakes, cookies and more goodies than you or your little ones could ever dream of.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Take a leisurely, leashed stroll together through Fayetteville’s Downtown Square and Gardens (which lots of people call a hidden gem), where you’ll also find the long-running farmers market three days a week during the warmer months.
7. Oak Park, Ill.
Though it’s less than five square miles in size, Oak Park offers its 50,000 residents access to top-notch public transportation, great schools and beautiful tree-lined streets. There is a seemingly endless supply of family-friendly events happening in this Chicago suburb, such as an old-fashioned carnival, summer movies in the park and a long-running ice show. Oak Park parents have even turned the first day of school into an annual celebration, going so far as to hire a marching band to accompany local kids to class.
Adults here will appreciate the diverse and historically significant architecture throughout Oak Park (there are a number of houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including his own home and studio). Plus, the school district in Oak Park prioritizes diversity, social and emotional learning and the arts, in addition to providing a quality education to students.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Visit the Oak Park Conservatory, a relaxing (and free!) indoor escape with lush green plants everywhere.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: George’s Restaurant, a family-owned and family-friendly joint where you can get a hearty meal that tastes like it was cooked at home.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Grab a bite at The Little Gem Cafe, a cozy and romantic hangout with great cocktails.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Hole in the Wall Custard Shoppe, an Oak Park institution and the perfect place to cool off on summer evenings.
Coolest Indoor Playground: Wonder Works Children’s Museum is more like a playground than your average museum — it’s a shoe-free zone where kids can play in a treehouse, pretend to work in a country market or put on a theater show.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): BeerShop, which is like a combination tap room and liquor store (that only sells beer). They have 16 beers on tap, plus more than 250 cans or bottles you can drink there or take home. Dogs are a big part of BeerShop’s atmosphere (just take a quick peek at their Instagram), so be sure to bring your four-legged family members when you visit.
6. State College, Pa.
With just over 41,000 residents, State College is a small central Pennsylvania town that’s often referred to as the Happy Valley. It’s home to Penn State University, which plays a huge role in making State College a family-friendly borough.
Aside from Big Ten football games in the fall, the university is home to a beautiful 395-acre arboretum, which features the unique Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden with fun, hands-on activities and elements designed specifically for kids. Beyond that, the school district in State College maintains a below-average student-to-teacher ratio of 13:1, which means children get more personalized attention in small classes.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Snag tickets to watch the State College Spikes, a minor league team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Baby’s Burgers and Shakes, a 1950s-inspired diner with vintage décor, thick milkshakes, burgers, hot dogs and more.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Get a sitter and book the three-hour tasting experience at the chef’s table at The Carnegie Inn and Spa Restaurant for an elegant dinner date.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Berkey Creamery, which has been going strong since 1865 on the Penn State campus. The creamery, which is where the founders of Ben and Jerry’s learned to make ice cream, serves up more than 20 flavors made from the university’s herd of 200 cows. Grab a few scoops and sit on the expansive patio!
Coolest Indoor Playground: Though it’s not technically an indoor playground, the entire family can let loose at Penn Skates, an indoor roller rink and family fun center. They offer skate rentals up to size 15 so parents can get in on the fun, or just watch, free of charge.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Tom Tudek Memorial Park, where your pooch will get to stretch his legs at the dog park. The rest of the family will enjoy the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden, the community garden plots and the 87 acres of open space and amenities.
5. Bloomington, Ind.
Bloomington got its start in the early 1800s when President James Madison selected the area to be the home of Indiana Seminary, officially becoming a city in 1818 (Monroe County, where Bloomington is located, got its name from the president, too). The seminary later became Indiana University, which is what Bloomington is best known for today. Like many college towns, Bloomington is a great place to raise a family — it’s full of cultural activities, sporting events and trendy restaurants. It’s no surprise that Bloomington also made Livability’s list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live this year.
For families that like to get outside, there are ample outdoor recreation opportunities in Bloomington, from the B-Line Trail that runs right through town to the 13,000-acre Charles C. Deam wilderness area. And with a median home price of roughly $245,000, Bloomington is still a relatively affordable place for families to live.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Go hiking, have a picnic lunch or just enjoy the view at Monroe Lake, a large reservoir southeast of the city’s center.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Bloomington kids are big fans of the pizza at Mother Bear’s Pizza. (And it doesn’t hurt that they can draw all over the walls and the furniture, either.)
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): A romantic evening of stargazing at Kirkwood Observatory at Indiana University.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: The Chocolate Moose, a classic ice cream shop with roots dating back to 1933. You can order sundaes, soft serve, milkshakes, ice cream floats, banana splits and tons of other treats here.
Coolest Indoor Playground: For little ones, the Kids Play Gym is the place to be in Bloomington. It offers 4,500-square-feet of interactive play, including a climbing wall, ball pit, zip line, trampoline, jungle gym, sensory rooms and more.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): While you sample a flight of six wines for just $3(!), your furry friends can also relax and take in the scenery at Butler Winery.
4. Fort Collins, Colo.
Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, Fort Collins is home to incredible outdoor recreation opportunities, Colorado State University, and a great quality of life for families. It’s no surprise this gorgeous city makes frequent appearances on our Top 100 Best Places to Live list. Fort Collins gets an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, so parents, kids and pets have plenty of chances to explore the city’s 600 acres of parks, 20 miles of hiking and biking trails and 40,000 acres(!) of nature areas.
During the summer months, kids can also take advantage of weekly comedy, music and cultural activities at The Lincoln Center, Fort Collins’ main performing arts venue. Plus, there are always fascinating science and history exhibits and programs at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. The city is also super bike-friendly and has a robust public transportation system.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Visit Fossil Creek Park, a 100-acre park where kids can romp around the hilly terrain, watch ducks in the ponds, play on the playground and climb a 6-foot woolly mammoth.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: The Silver Grill Cafe, a downtown Fort Collins classic that serves amazingly huge cinnamon rolls your kids will love. And for parents, there’s free coffee while you wait for your table.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): The Cache at Ginger and Baker, a top-notch restaurant in a renovated 1905 grain mill on the National Register of Historic Places. After dinner, be sure to grab a slice of pie (or several — their impressively long list of flavors changes daily).
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Fort Collins Candy Store Emporium, where you’ll meet owner Tony Vallejos (known as “the Candy Man”) and find lots of throwback sweet treats like Necco wafers and pop rocks.
Coolest Indoor Playground: Fort Fun, where kids can play laser tag, drive bumper cars and check out the arcade. Plus, if the weather is nice, there’s also outdoor mini golf, go-karts, bumper boats and more.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Odell Brewing Co., where your pup can chill on the huge patio while you sip craft beer and eat from the rotating food truck offerings.
3. Beaverton, Ore.
Though it may be a suburb of Portland, Beaverton, Oregon, definitely stands on its own — from great schools to fresh air, families can really thrive here. When mom and dad aren’t working at top companies like IBM
(among others based here), it’s easy to get outside and explore Beaverton’s 90 parks, 60 miles of trails and 1,400 acres of dedicated natural areas — in fact, there’s a park within a half mile of every home here.
Beaverton also has great public transportation and makes it easy to commute by bike or on foot (the city’s average commute time is just 20 minutes, so parents can make it home quickly for dinner).
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Paint ceramics or create a mosaic masterpiece at CeramiCafe Art Lounge — no art experience is necessary and it’s fun for both kids and adults.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Tom’s Pancake House, which has been a Beaverton favorite since 1966. Kids love the chocolate chip pancakes and the fresh cinnamon rolls (did somebody say sugar rush?).
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Spend an afternoon at Ponzi Vineyards tasting wine, playing bocce ball and strolling around the nearly 50-year-old estate. They also offer tours and wine-pairing lunches.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Ome Calli Frozen Treats, which specializes in a type of Mexican shaved ice called chamoyada. They also serve up some quirky ice cream flavors and fresh Popsicles.
Coolest Indoor Playground: Pump It Up, which has huge inflatable playgrounds perfect for blowing off some steam or celebrating a school milestone.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): The 30-acre Hyland Woods Natural Area has lots of trails through the trees — and plenty of smells for curious noses!
2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Head west from Detroit about 40 miles and you’ll find yourself in Ann Arbor, the No. 1 city on Livability’s list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live this year and home of the top-ranked University of Michigan. This tightknit college town offers tons of family-friendly amenities.
There are a whopping 159 parks in Ann Arbor, plus other cool outdoor places to explore, like the Dexter-Huron Metropark, a 120-acre wooded area with trails, canoeing, disc golf, swings, slides and picnic areas. The school district serves more than 17,000 students and maintains an impressive 17:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Plus, Ann Arbor’s 120,000 residents are highly educated, with nearly 73% of adults over the age of 25 earning a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: Hands down, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (pun intended). Kids and parents rave about this place, which has interactive science and technology exhibits galore.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Locals rave about the kids’ menu at Grizzly Peak Brewing Company.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Not only does the Gandy Dancer serve up delicious steaks and seafood, but it’s also located in a charming restored train depot from 1886.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory, where you can watch the confectioners make Zingerman’s unique candy bars and then taste their handiwork.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Leash up and head to Nichols Arboretum, aka “The Arb,” at the University of Michigan, where fur-children and humans alike will enjoy the 3.5 miles of trails through flower gardens, fields of prairie grasses and wooded nature areas.
1. Moscow, Idaho
Located along Idaho’s western border with Washington, Moscow, ID, is home to approximately 25,000 residents and tops this year’s list of the Best Places to Raise a Family — in addition to racking up impressive rankings on the Top 100 Best Places to Live and the 10 Best Affordable Places to Live this year.
It’s also home to the University of Idaho, which means there are tons of fun sporting events and activities for families to take advantage of all year round. The University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden, for example, is the perfect place to let kids run around and burn off some energy. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Latah Trail Bike Path and 17 city parks to choose from. The school district in Moscow is small, serving just 2,400 total students, so you’re sure to establish close relationships with your child’s teachers and other parents.
Best Way to Keep Everyone Entertained on a Saturday Afternoon: During the summer months, hit up the Hamilton-Lowe Aquatics Center, which features a lazy river, a giant swimming pool, tall waterslides and areas for young children and toddlers to play.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: La Casa Lopez, which is right on Main Street and offers a family-friendly atmosphere and tasty Mexican food.
Best Date Night Spot (for frazzled parents): Sangria Grille, which works with as many local farmers as possible to serve up fresh dishes like Peruvian pan-roasted chicken and serrano Caesar salad.
Where to Score the Sweet Stuff: Buy the Dozen, a cleverly named doughnut stand at the Moscow Farmer’s Market. They make adorable mini doughnuts with tons of toppings to choose from, such as crushed Oreos or lemon glaze.
Coolest Indoor Playground: Bonkerz Indoor Playcenter, where kids of all ages can romp around a giant play structure, pretend they’re in a barn, at the market or at home, or play at various stations featuring dinosaurs, dolls and trains. Bonus: there’s even Wi-Fi and comfy seating for parents.
Dog-Friendly Hangout Spot (because they’re part of the family too!): Everyone is invited to the patio at Moscow Alehouse, a laid-back restaurant that serves up classic bar food and a rotating selection of 24 beers.
Get a daily roundup of the top reads in personal finance delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newsletter. Sign up here.