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The Best Places to Live for Young Families in California

When you’re just starting a family, there’s a natural tendency to want more — more time to spend at home, more financial security, more peace of mind. And owning a home is often a part of that equation. So when it’s time to pick a spot for your family to call home, it has to live up to those new priorities, too. Factors like job opportunities, good schools and affordable housing prices are vital pieces to consider. But it’s the overall picture that best predicts whether or not it’s right for you and your new family.

In California, young families have a tremendous variety of housing options that reflect both the Golden State’s large size and diverse geography, with a 1,100-mile coastline on the west, the Central Valley to the east, and a ring of mountains, forested land and desert. Affordability, however, continues, to be a concern, so it’s important to track mortgage rates, as well as minimum mortgage requirements to buy a home in 2019. To help you narrow your choices, researchers at LendingTree have compiled a list of the best places for young families in California. Here’s what they found:

Key takeaways

  • Folsom is the best place to raise a family in California, with a final score of 67.8.
  • Palo Alto and Menlo Park take the second and third spots with final scores of 65.8 and 64.9, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Los Banos to be the most challenging place for young families in California, with a final score of 38.1
  • Adelanto and Inglewood finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 40.6 and 41.7, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Calif.

#1 Folsom

Folsom, located east of Sacramento and sitting alongside a lake of the same name, has a history that stretches back to the gold rush. Now home to an aquatic center, a sports complex, a zoo sanctuary, trails and parks, it offers plenty of amenities for young families, garnering a final score of 67.8. Almost 40% of households have children, and of those, 73.6% own their home. Median housing costs are less than $2,000 a month, and the median household income for those with children is just over $135,000 per year. And while the percentage of those 16 to 19 who have not graduated high school is on the high end compared with other cities on this list (1.2%), it does make a solid showing in the unemployment rate (2.9%) and commute (25.7 minutes) categories.

#2 Palo Alto

Scoring 65.8 overall, Palo Alto is a charter city that helped create Silicon Valley, still the tech hub for the San Francisco Bay area. The average commute time for residents is 24.2 minutes. Its proximity to big tech companies, like Google and Facebook, may have an impact (for better or worse) on the median monthly housing cost ($2,512) and average earnings for families with children ($220,104). More than half of families with children own their homes, and the unemployment rate for those 25 to 44 is just 2.4%.

#3 Menlo Park

Sitting just north of the second city on this list, Palo Alto, is the perhaps lesser-known Menlo Park, which has comparable median household incomes and housing costs for families with children, and a higher rate of homeownership among families. However, it also comes with a slightly higher unemployment rate for 25 to 44 year olds (2.9%), as well as a higher rate of 16 to 19 year olds not enrolled in or graduated from high school (2%). For those reasons, it ends up with a final score of 64.9.

#4 San Ramon

Located east of San Francisco, and nabbing a final score just 0.1 less than Menlo Park, San Ramon is another solid choice for young families. And it happens to be a popular option, too: Over half of households have children, and nearly three in four families with children own their home. It does, however, have the highest average commute time of the top ten cities, with a 37.2-minute average travel time to work.

#5 Danville

With a final score of 64.7, Danville, a city also east of San Francisco, provides a solid foundation for young families. Of all the cities that made the top ten, it has the highest rate of homeownership for families with children (87%). Its population skews wealthier than the average American income: Most residents make just over $200,000 per year. However, with a median monthly housing cost of $2,945, it also comes with the highest cost of living of the top ten cities.

#6 Poway

Unlike most cities on this list, Poway (final score: 64.2) is located near the southern border of the United States, just north of San Diego. Almost 70% of those with children own their home. And those who commute to work can look forward to an average time of 25 minutes, which is similar to the top three cities on this list. However, when you look closer at that comparison, it does have a high unemployment rate for those 25 to 44 (4.4%), and the median household income for young families is on the lower end: $116,417.

#7 Rocklin

Located between San Francisco and Tahoe National Forest, and near Sacramento, Rocklin gives visitors a 360-degree views of mountains and hillscapes. It has about the same median household income and homeownership rate for families with children as Poway (which edges the city out by just 0.1 in the final score), but residents save an average of about $300 a month on housing costs. Within the context of these rankings, however, it also has a slightly higher unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds (4.5%) as well as a higher rate for 16- to 19-year-olds not yet enrolled in or graduated from high school (1.3%).

#8 Visalia

This city, which describes itself as “The Gateway to the Sequoias,” comes into the rankings with a final score of 64. It sits squarely in the center of the state, just west of Sierra and Sequoia National Forests, and Death Valley. The median monthly housing cost in Visalia is just $1,103 — the lowest of the top ten California cities — and about half of young families own their home. That low housing cost, however, also goes along with a somewhat depressed median annual income for families with children ($53,647), making it the only top-ten city to place under the $100,000 mark.

#9 El Dorado Hills

This city sits east of Sacramento and southeast of the No. 7 city on this list, Rocklin. Of the 40.9% of households with children, a whopping 85.7% own their homes. However, out of the top ten cities on this list, it has the highest unemployment statistics for those 25 to 44, with a rate of 5.1%. And the median housing costs, $2,516, is comparable to that of Palo Alto (No. 2) or Menlo Park (No. 3), but its median household income for families with children comes in about $50,000 to $60,000 lower than those cities. So while it’s favorable to young families who want to own their home, it has its drawbacks.

#10 Davis

Davis, a college town west of Sacramento, earns a final score of 63.7, making it a tie with El Dorado Hills. Those who opt for Davis over El Dorado Hills can shave about 10 minutes off of their average commute (21.7 minutes for Davis), and about $1,000 off their median monthly housing costs. However, less than a quarter of households have children, the rate for homeownership among those with children is around 26 percentage points lower than El Dorado Hills, and the unemployment rate for 25 to 44 years olds stands at 4.5%.

Understanding the rankings

We chose six indicators to rank cities and towns with above 31,409 people in each state for how good they are for young families, which were then scored to create an overall ranking of the best places for young families. The six indicators we used are:

  • Median family income:  Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests a place with good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
  • Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new child care expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
  • Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates where homeownership is both more common and more practical for a family looking to buy.
  • Unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year -olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggest a higher quality of life, locally. We focus on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
  • % 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school: To estimate high school graduation rates and therefore school quality, we calculated the percentage of older teenagers who were not in high school yet had no high school degree. This number is not the actual high school dropout rate, but is well correlated.
  • Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families

Methodology

Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census.  Each of the six metrics was given a value according to their relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by six for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 31,409.

 

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