Northern California has a reputation for pricey living, but young families are still finding affordable homes and good public schools in the suburbs of Sacramento and Fresno, as well as areas east of San Francisco.
Half of the 10 best places for young families in Northern California are clustered in suburbs of the state capital, NerdWallet found. Three other communities in our top 10 are in the eastern part of the Bay Area, where the tech industry is booming, and two are farther south, in the Fresno area.
By statistically comparing such factors as home prices, education, income growth and a crime risk score, NerdWallet identified the best places to start your search for the Northern California community that’s right for you and your family. We crunched the data for 202 places in Northern California — cities, towns and census-designated places with at least 10,000 residents. Not every place got top marks in all the categories we looked at, and housing affordability is an issue in some places.
Family-friendly places came in pairs: Three sets of spots on the top 10 list are neighboring places — Rocklin and Roseville; El Dorado Hills and Folsom; and Dublin and San Ramon.
Second “bests”: Half of the cities on this year’s top 10 list also appeared on NerdWallet’s lists of the Best Cities for Young Families in Northern California 2014 or the Best Cities for Young Families in California 2014.
Best places for young families in Northern California
1. El Dorado Hills
El Dorado Hills, just east of Sacramento, earned a crime risk score of “most safe,” the highest possible mark. Homes aren’t cheap here — the median home value is $472,000, compared with the Northern California median of $304,650 — but median family income here is high, too, at $129,292. El Dorado Hills students are served by Buckeye Union School District, Rescue Union School District and El Dorado Union High School District. Top community attractions include El Dorado Hills Town Center and the area’s more than 200 acres of parks and open space.
Folsom’s claim to fame may be its prison, but this suburban Sacramento city has a lot to offer families as well. Median family income in Folsom is high at $116,527, and it’s a community with plenty of young families — 30% of families include at least one child under the age of 18. Folsom earns a “safe” crime score, and poverty rates are low. Folsom Cordova Unified School District serves students in the area. The city offers a wealth of opportunities for outdoor recreation, and family attractions nearby include the historic district’s Sutter Street, the Folsom Railway Museum, Folsom’s Pioneer Village and the Harris Center for the Arts.
3. San Ramon
Living in San Ramon isn’t cheap; the San Francisco suburb’s median home value of $722,700 is the highest in our top 10. But families in the Contra Costa County city also earn a high median income of $151,494. San Ramon’s crime risk score is “most safe,” the highest possible, and 43% of families include at least one child under 18, the most in our top 10. Students here attend the award-winning San Ramon Valley Unified School District. Top attractions in San Ramon include the San Ramon Performing Arts Center, the San Ramon Art & Wind Festival as well as the city’s many trails and parks. San Ramon recently began a $4.45 million expansion and renovation of its main library, which will reopen in early 2017.
Dublin, in Alameda County, is located on the BART train line, allowing for a car-free commute to San Francisco, and its crime risk score of “most safe” is the highest possible. Median family income grew 54.88% in Dublin from 1999 to 2014, the second-highest amount in our top 10. The Dublin Unified School District is expanding: A new kindergarten complex at James Dougherty Elementary School is scheduled to be completed in fall 2017, and a new K-8 school in the Jordan Ranch development is scheduled to open in fall 2018. Each year Dublin hosts Splatter, a popular food, art and wine festival for the whole family. The city is home to a wide range of parks and open space areas, including the 654-acre Dublin Hills Regional Park.
Kingsburg, in Fresno County, has the lowest median home value in our top 10, at $219,700. Median income grew a whopping 57.15% on average from 1999 to 2014, the highest such jump in our top 10. Kingsburg is a “less safe” city according to its crime score, which is just under the state median. Elementary schools in Kingsburg operate on a charter system, which also includes one junior high school and Central Valley Home School. Kingsburg High School operates its own school district. Kingsburg pays homage to its heritage with its Swedish Village and annual events including the Kingsburg Swedish Festival and Julgransfest Christmas Tree Lighting.
We analyzed 202 places in Northern California with populations of 10,000 or more. Northern California was defined as all counties in California, excluding the 10 southernmost counties of Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. Certain places were excluded because of missing data. Our methodology focused on four factors:
Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the total score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs. The lower the costs, the higher the score. Data came from the American Community Survey, a division of the U.S. Census.
Growth and prosperity. Growth and prosperity are 20% of the total score. The two metrics were growth in family income from 1999 to 2014, and median family income in 2014. Data are from the American Community Survey.
Family friendliness. To measure whether an area is a good place for families, which is 20% of our total score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 18, the average crime score as provided by NeighborhoodScout, and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child under age 5.
Educational quality. Using data from SchoolDigger.com, every place was given a percentile score relative to other places in the state. Education is 30% of the total score.
Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
This article originally appeared on NerdWallet.