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2011 Best Cities for Families
The top places to live, based on the quality of schools, affordable homes, low crime rates, jobs and parkland.
- Capital Reigon USA
You want the best for your family, and that includes great schools, affordable homes, low crime rates, plenty of jobs and lots of parkland. So we crunched more than 8,000 bits of data in 84 categories to determine this year's top places to raise kids.
1. Washington, DC
The history, the government, the breathtaking architecture and inspiring monuments—you don't have to be a child to get an amazing education in this city. Our nation's capital is also known for its plenitude of museums—in fact, there are 44, second only to the Big Apple! If your kid enjoys visiting the National Air and Space Museum, imagine fostering his love of airplanes with trips to nearby Gravelly Point Park for front-seat views of the takeoffs and landings at Reagan National Airport. The Capital Crescent Trail, a hard-surface trail from Georgetown to Bethesda, MD, developed on an abandoned rail bed, is a great bike trip that is off the beaten track.
Family dinner nights are easy at quirky local favorites like Matchbox restaurants or Busboys & Poets—both provide a place adults and kids can enjoy. And, of course, any child growing up in Washington, DC, will have a special place in his heart for the famous cherry blossoms and festival held each spring.
- Larry D. Moore / Wikimedia (CC Licenced)
2. Austin, TX
It's no surprise that Austin kept its second-place ranking from last year—it's a way-cool progressive city in a warm and sunny climate. City pools stay open year-round, and the bass are always biting at Town Lake.
The self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, Austin also hosts the annual South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival. It's a mecca for innovators—Michael Dell launched his tech company here—and Samsung, Google and Facebook all have offices.
With an abundance of pediatricians, 27,000 acres of parkland and plenty of farmers markets and food co-ops, Austin is a well-rounded, healthy hometown.
- Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
3. Boston, MA
Historic Boston made our Top 10 list for education and ranked high in our health category as well. Boston public schools spend a whopping $23,000 per student (the national average is $9,000), and the city is home to several world-class medical institutions, including Children's Hospital Boston and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Families can stay fit in Boston's many parks, such as the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, with beautiful paths to amble through. Also ideal for kids is the Back Bay Fens, a restored former saltwater marsh turned into an “urban wild” with community gardens, a playground and basketball courts. Then there's note-worthy Charles Street in Beacon Hill, the Boston Public Garden (which your kids will recognize from Make Way for Ducklings) and Fenway Park.
- City of St. Paul's Official Facebook page
4. Minnaeapolis—St. Paul, MN
The name “Minneapolis” means “city of lakes,” and these twin metropolises have an extensive park and recreation system featuring all that waterfront property. Jogging and bike paths wind around 13 miles of shoreline, earning Minneapolis the designation of being a Bike Friendly City from the League of American Bicyclists.
Also a cultural hot spot, Minneapolis is home to the Hennepin Theatre Stages, which hosts Kids' Nights performances (The Lion King debuted here before heading to Broadway). Or visit the stunning Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum to inspire a child's interest in architecture.
The Twin Cities have their bases covered when it comes to pro sports—there are baseball, basketball, hockey and football teams—and education. Students here come in a close second behind Boston in reading and math scores.
- De Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau
5. Des Moines, IA
Iowa isn't just corn and politics. The city of Des Moines ranks in the Top 10 for both education and health, offering kids the opportunity to experience city life in the midst of America's farmland.
Budding engineers or biologists will enjoy the Science Center of Iowa, and nothing beats the clear night skies of the Iowa plains for stargazing. Des Moines's low unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is partly due to big employers in the insurance industry, including The Principal Financial Group, which has made nine appearances on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list.
Families can keep fit by walking the paved trails and attending free Yoga in the Park classes on Saturdays at Grays Lake Park.
- Dori / Wikimedia (CC Licensed)
6. Madison, WI
There's no shortage of affordable fun in Madison, which ranked third on our list last year. Madison gets the “green” light for loads of bike trails, lakes, food co-ops and farmers markets, including Dane County Farmers' Market at Capitol Square, held Saturdays at the foot of the statehouse.
Hugging the banks of Lake Mendota, the University of Wisconsin campus provides museums, art and theater. Kids also dig the landmark Cave of the Mounds, full of fossils and gems.
- Ajtnk / Wikimedia (CC Licensed)
7. Honolulu, HI
This tropical paradise is much more than just the center of Hawaiian culture, theater and music. Clean air, loads of sun and surf and state obesity rates well below the national average add up to a seriously healthy city for raising a family.
The strong economy here is powered by tourism, the military, defense contracting and real estate, resulting in a practically nonexistent unemployment rate, the lowest property taxes on our list, and an easy under-23-minute commute.
Fourteen public schools have received the Department of Education Blue Ribbon School Designation for Excellence, and Honolulu had the lowest crime rate of our ten winners.
- Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau
8. Omaha, NE
Omaha moves up a notch from ninth place on last year's list, securing a spot in the top 10 for the second year. This quaint Midwestern city with the Missouri River winding through it has strong roots in Native American culture, as well as a historic African-American music scene, with a vibrant jazz presence.
The cobblestone streets in downtown Omaha hark back to the past, but modern art peppers the landscape as well. Pick a sunny day and follow the Art Walk guide to the 22 installations throughout the downtown area. Add in strong schools and a thriving job market, and growing up in Omaha becomes an enviable proposition.
- Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia (CC Licensed)
9. Seattle, WA
Want to raise a book lover? This hotbed of reading is the place, named one of the most literate cities in America.
Seattle gets a bad rap for its rainfall, but the steady precipitation results in lush vegetation, earning Seattle the nickname “the Emerald City” and serving up plenty of locally grown goodness. And when the sun comes out, the weather is mild and perfect for heading to the nearly 5,500 acres of parks.
Companies like Starbucks and Amazon fuel the job market, and expectant parents are in luck because the state of Washington has expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to include businesses with only eight or more workers.
- Andrew Jameson / Wikimedia (CC Licensed)
10. Louisville, KY
Site of the Kentucky Derby, the famous thoroughbred horse race, Louisville offers both pasture-rich grasslands and Midwestern city culture. The affordable housing means you can live comfortably amid lots of parkland and top-notch schools.
Home to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Kentucky State Fair and Americana arts and crafts, Louisville is also known as the “City of Parks.” And it's making a fourth appearance on the America's Promise Alliance's list of 100 Best Communities for Young People.