The Top 10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in California

Written by Theresa Pogach
Updated: November 14, 2023
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California is renowned for its stunning landscapes, diverse culture, and thriving job market. No wonder many families are California dreamin’ and aspiring to call the Golden State home. Along with the sunshine, the state also has a reputation for high living costs and crowded urban areas. Finding the perfect place to raise a family can take time and effort. 

To help you make the most informed decision, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 cities to raise a family in Califonia. The list considers affordability, safety, and family-friendly activities

In San Diego County, Carlsbad is a coastal paradise that combines safety, affordability, and natural beauty.

1. Thousand Oaks, CA

Inland Empire Southern California on clear spring morning looking east

Tree-lined neighborhoods are a staple of Thousand Oaks.

©Tim Gray/

Nestled in Ventura County, Thousand Oaks is just outside Los Angeles but feels far from the urban center. The city’s commitment to preserving green spaces means your family can enjoy numerous parks, hiking trails, and nature reserves. The Conejo Valley Unified School District consistently ranks high in educational excellence. Wildlife is never far away with The Santa Monica Mountains along your skyline. The majestic mountain lion is part of the region’s wilderness and a beloved California symbol. If you’re looking to build family traditions, Conejo Valley Days is a local festival filled with the fun that makes Thousand Oaks an ideal place to raise your family. 

2. Folsom, CA

Daytime view of the historic 1893 pedestrian bridge in Folsom, California, USA.

Rural areas provide plenty of space to run and explore.

©Matt Gush/

Folsom, located in Sacramento County, offers a perfect blend of affordable living and beautiful parks. The city boasts low crime rates and an excellent school system, making it an ideal place to raise children. The nearby Folsom Lake State Recreation Area provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, boating, and camping, ensuring a well-rounded family experience. If you’re a fan of river life, Folsom is located near The American River, home to Chinook salmon during their annual spawning run. Family fun is around every corner, and you won’t want to miss the Folsom Pro Rodeo held every Fourth of July weekend. It includes rodeo performances, fireworks, live music, and a patriotic carnival.

3. Pleasanton, CA

city landscape from Castleridge Trail Head, trees in the mountains at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park

Parks and nature walks are always close by in Pleasanton.

©Alina M Darkhovsky/

Pleasanton offers a welcoming community and family-friendly atmosphere in the East Bay region. Its well-regarded schools, low crime rates, and vibrant downtown area make it a top choice for families. You’ll also find easy access to nature with the nearby Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, perfect for hiking and picnicking. Ample open spaces and parks provide habitat for various birds, including the iconic red-tailed hawk. These beauties can often be seen soaring above Pleasanton. Keep the kids entertained at the annual Alameda County Fair. It’s a summer highlight with carnival rides, live concerts, agricultural exhibits, and delicious fair food.

4. Irvine, CA

View of Balboa Island, and buildings in Irvine, from Newport Beach, California.

Boat enthusiasts love to call Irvine home.

©Jon Bilous/

Irvine, located in Orange County, is renowned for its safe neighborhoods, exceptional schools, and master-planned communities. The city is committed to green initiatives, offering numerous parks, bike paths, and nature preserves for families to explore. On one of these outings, you’ll be sure to spot a great blue heron. These tall, graceful birds are a common sight along the waterways. Feel confident sending your kids to school every morning, as the Irvine Unified School District consistently ranks among the best in the state. To enjoy global cultures, Irvine hosts the Global Village Festival annually. This multicultural festival celebrates diversity with music, dance performances, international food, and kid-friendly educational activities.

5. San Ramon, CA

San Ramon’s natural beauty and manicured neighborhoods make it ideal for families.

©Michael Vi/

In Contra Costa County, San Ramon is another gem for families seeking a safe and family-oriented environment. Low crime rates and highly rated schools make it an excellent choice for raising children. The nearby Las Trampas Wilderness Regional Preserve provides a beautiful backdrop for outdoor adventures. San Ramon and the surrounding areas in Contra Costa are known for their deer population. Seeing a herd of these elegant animals in local parks or nature reserves is a serene experience the whole family will enjoy. Take time with the family to explore San Ramon’s Art and Wind Festival. It’s a colorful event featuring kite flying, art displays, live entertainment, and eclectic craft vendors. Kids can enjoy art activities and enjoy the kite-related fun! 

6. Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Aerial view of the downtown area of Ranacho Cucamonga, California.

An inviting downtown is a favorite for local families.

©Matt Gush/

Located in the Inland Empire region, Rancho Cucamonga offers affordability without compromising safety or access to nature’s beauty. The city’s parks, recreational facilities, and hiking trails are perfect for active families. The Etiwanda School District and Chaffey Joint Union High School District, provide excellent education options. The foothills near Rancho Cucamonga offer habitat for the western bluebird. These strikingly colorful birds are delightful in the area’s open spaces. If you want to understand more about the city’s history, look no further than the Rancho Cucamonga Founder’s Day Community Parade. The event includes live music, food vendors, and family-friendly activities.

7. Rocklin, CA

Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge completed in 1912 ~ it crosses the American River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Auburn, California

Hiking and camping are ample in Rocklin Quarry Park.


Rocklin, part of Placer County, is a family-centric community known for its excellent schools and low crime rates. With its proximity to the Sierra Nevada foothills, outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the nearby hiking, biking, and camping opportunities in places like Rocklin Quarry Park. The Quarry also offers zip-lining adventures, rock climbing, and outdoor concerts for the entire family. Keep your eyes peeled for the area’s wild turkeys. The large birds are often seen foraging in parks and wooded areas. If your family includes fur babies, you’ll love Barktoberfest with pet-friendly vendors and canine competitions!    

8. Carlsbad, CA

Flowers at Carlsbad Flower Fields, Carlsbad, CA

Ocean breezes and beautiful landscapes make Carlsbad an inviting city.

©Irina Danilova/

In San Diego County, Carlsbad is a coastal paradise that combines safety, affordability, and natural beauty. The city’s beaches are perfect for family outings, while the Carlsbad Unified School District is known for its quality education. The crime rates here are notably low, providing peace of mind for parents. Carlsbad’s coastline along the Pacific Ocean provides opportunities for whale watching. Gray whales, in particular, migrate along this coast during their annual journey. Carlsbad is also home to the largest single-day street fair in the nation. The Carlsbad Village Street Fair features over 800 vendors selling arts, crafts, and food. There are also family-friendly rides and entertainment for the kids.

9. Elk Grove, CA

Afternoon sun shines on a historic downtown water tower of Elk Grove, California, USA.

Elk Grove isn’t short on small-town charm.

©Matt Gush/

Just south of Sacramento, Elk Grove is a rapidly growing city with a strong sense of community. It offers affordable housing, good schools, and a low crime rate. The Cosumnes River Preserve and numerous parks make it easy for families to enjoy the outdoors. During the winter migration, the preserve is a critical habitat for the Sandhill crane. Witnessing these tall, elegant birds is a unique experience. Another one-of-a-kind opportunity is the Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival. The festival celebrates all things pumpkin with giant pumpkin weigh-offs, pie-eating contests, family activities like pony rides, and an elaborate pumpkin patch.    

10. Simi Valley, CA

Suburban Simi Valley west of Los Angeles, California.

The rolling hills of Simi Valley hide a family-friendly oasis.


Situated in Ventura County, Simi Valley is a family-friendly city with a strong focus on safety and education. The Simi Valley Unified School District consistently ranks well, and the city’s parks and open spaces provide an excellent backdrop for outdoor activities. Simi Valley is also affordable and near the urban center of Los Angeles, CA, under 40 minutes away. If you’re a giant bird fanatic, The Los Padres National Forest near Simi Valley is one of the release sites for the critically endangered California condor. Families can also enjoy the Happy Face Music Festival. Families can enjoy live blues, Cajon music, and a Kid’s Kountry area with carnival games, crafts, and inflatables!   

Choosing the ideal place to raise a family in California includes balancing affordability, safety, education, and access to nature. The ten cities on this list offer families an ideal home. Whether you prefer the northern or southern part of the state, there’s a family-friendly community waiting to welcome you with open arms.

Summary of The Top 10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in California

RankBest City to Raise a FamilyCounty
1Thousand OaksVentura County
2FolsomSacramento County
3PleasantonAlameda County
4IrvineOrange County
5San RamonContra Costa County
6Rancho CucamongaSan Bernadino County
7RocklinPlacer County
8CarlsbadSan Diego County
9Elk GroveSacramento County
10Simi ValleyVentura County
Summary Table of The Top 10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in California

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Joseph Sohm/

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