How Family Friendly Are California’s 20 Biggest Cities?

Samantha Leeds

Lists + Maps


The number of parents opting to start their families in the city has been rising over the last few decades. But choosing which city to call home can be a difficult decision. What makes for a good place to settle down is of course subjective, but at Estately we believe there are a number of objective factors that can help to measure a city’s family friendliness. With this in mind we set out to rank California’s 20 most populated cities using ten criteria:

  1. Youth population: The population of persons under 18 as a percentage of the over-all population (US Census)
  2. Commute time: The mean travel time to work for workers 16 and up (US Census)
  3. Preschools: The number of preschools per capita for the population of people 5 years and under (US Census and
  4. Public education: The average school rating for public elementary, middle and high schools (
  5. Crime: The composite crime rate for violent crime, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, property crime, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson per capita (FBI)
  6. Libraries: Public libraries per capita (
  7. Open space: Public parks per capita (each city’s department of Parks and Recreation)
  8. Housing affordability: the number of houses on the market affordable to a family earning the median household income for that city (Estately and US Census).
  9. Daycare: The number of daycare centers per capita (The Yellow Pages)
  10. Cost of living: The yearly salary a family needs to earn to be considered earning a living wage (MIT)



The cities:

1. Sacramento

The capital of California is great for the state of your family union. With all of its upsides it’s easy to see how families would thrive in this city on the river

Upsides: 4th most preschools per capita, 4th most daycares per capita, 4th most public libraries per capita, 4th most affordable housing market, 5th lowest cost of living

Downsides: 6th highest crime rate, 12th for population under 18

GreatSchools score: 5 out of 10

2. Bakersfield

This Nashville of the west will have your family calling Bakersfield home in no time.

Upsides: 1st for lowest cost of living, 1st for most affordable housing market, 3rd shortest commute, 3rd largest children’s population

Downsides: 5th highest crime rate, 13th for daycare facilities per capita

GreatSchools Score: 5 out of 10

3. Fresno

Named after the Spanish word for the ash tree, living in Fresno will have you spending less time commuting and more with the family.

Upsides: 1st for shortest commute at an average of 21.5 minutes, 3rd most affordable housing market, 2nd lowest cost of living

Downsides: 7th highest crime rate, 18th for daycares

4. Fremont

Named for an American explorer, Fremont is an ideal setting to settle down with a family.

Upsides: 2nd highest number of preschools per capita, 2nd highest ranking schools, 2nd lowest crime rate, 1st for daycares

Downsides: 3rd longest commute, 16th for public parks per capita, 12th for housing affordability

GreatSchools Score: 8 out of 10

5. Riverside

The birthplace of the California citrus industry, kids in Riverside can set up endless orange juice stands.

Upsides: 3rd most libraries per capita, 6th lowest cost of living, 7th for daycares

Downsides: 10th highest crime rate, 5th longest commute

GreatSchools Score: 5 out of 10

6. San Diego

Known for its mild climate and beaches, San Diego has plenty of sunshine for families to soak up.

Upsides: 2nd shortest commute, 3rd highest rated schools, 5th most parks, 8th lowest crime, 6th most libraries per capita

Downsides: 8th most expensive housing market, 3rd smallest population under 18, 11th highest cost of living

GreatSchools Score: 7 out of 10

7. San Jose

At the center of Silicon Valley’s tech boom, San Jose is known for its affluence and high cost of living.

Upsides: 1st for parks, 5th for preschools, 9th shortest commute, 9th lowest crime rate,

Downsides: 5th most expensive housing market, 6th highest cost of living, 15th for children’s population

GreatSchools Score: 6 out of 10

8. Long Beach

The maritime center of the U.S., Long Beach offers up plenty for families to do on land and on the water.

Upsides: 6th most preschools, 4th most parks, 7th most libraries, 8th most daycares

Downsides: 9th highest crime rate, 6th longest commute, 6th most expensive housing market, 8th highest cost of living

GreatSchools Score: 6 out of 10

9. Irvine

Home to a large number of universities and known for its low crime rate, Irvine only ranks this low because it is lacking in parks and libraries.

Upsides: 1st for lowest crime rate, 1st for schools, 2nd for daycares, 3rd for preschools, 4th for shortest commute

Downsides: 19th for libraries, 19th for parks, 4th highest cost of living, 4th most expensive housing market

GreatSchools Score: 10 out of 10

10. Chula Vista:

Nicknamed the lemon capital of the world Chula Vista should be making a lot of lemonade.

Upsides: 3rd for schools, 3rd lowest crime rate, 10th shortest commute, 10th most affordable housing marketing, 11th lowest cost of living.

Downsides: 14th for preschools, 12th for daycare facilities, 17th for libraries, 15th for parks

GreatSchools Score: 7 out of 10

11. Oakland:

Forbes named Oakland as one of the 20 coolest cities of 2012. Get in on the real estate now, so you can say you moved there before everyone knew it was cool.

Upsides: 1st for libraries, 3rd for parks, 5th for daycares, 7th for preschools, 9th for cost of living

Downsides: 1st for high crime rate, 11th for housing affordability, 7th longest commute

GreatSchools Score: 4 out 10

12. Stockton:

Recently returning from bankruptcy, Stockton is making an affordable come-back.

Upsides: 2nd for housing affordability, 3rd for cost of living, 6th biggest children’s population, 9th for daycares

Downsides: 2nd highest crime rate, 13th for preschools, 13th for libraries, 14th for parks

GreatSchools Rating: 5 out of 10

13. Modesto:

Known for its role in American Graffiti, Modesto offers more than movie trivia.

Upsides: 6th most affordable housing market, 4th lowest cost of living, 8th shortest commute, 10th most daycares

Downsides: 20th for libraries, 3rd highest crime, 12th for preschools, 12th for parks

GreatSchools Score: 5 out of 10

14. Santa Ana:

One of the most densely populated cities in the U.S., Santa Ana still has space to squeeze in a few more families.

Upsides: 5th lowest crime, 7th shortest commute, 9th most affordable housing market, 4th biggest children’s population

Downsides: 5th lowest number of preschools, 4th lowest number of daycares, 5th highest cost of living

GreatSchools Score: 5 out of 10

15. San Bernardino:

In 2011 San Bernardino was named the second poorest of America’s big cities behind Detroit. It has the second highest population of people under 18.

Upsides: 5th most affordable housing, 6th lowest cost of living, 5th most libraries

Downsides: 4th highest crime rate, 17th for preschools, 8th longest commute, 17th for parks, 15th for daycares

16. Fontana:

Known as the city of actions, Fontana has the highest population of people under 18.

Upsides: 5th lowest crime rate, 7th most affordable housing market, 6th sixth lowest cost of living.

Downsides: 20th for preschools, 19th for daycares, 1st for longest commute, 18th for libraries, 13th for parks

GreatSchools Score: 5 out 10

17. San Francisco:

Known as a tourist destination and for its liberal politics, San Francisco has the lowest population of people under 18.

Upsides: 1st for preschools, 2nd for libraries, 3rd for daycares, 8th lowest crime

Downsides: 2nd longest commute. 1st for most expensive housing market, 1st for cost of living, 18th for parks

GreatSchools Score: 6 out of 10

18. Oxnard:

Oxnard was ranked as one of the safest cities in America in 2013.

Upsides: 4th lowest crime, 5th shortest commute, 7th for parks.

Downsides: 20th for daycares, 19th for preschools, 15th for libraries

GreatSchools Score: 4 out of 10

19. Anaheim:

It’s home to Disneyland, but Anaheim may not be the most magical kingdom for families.

Upsides: 7th lowest crime rate, 12th shortest commute, 12th most libraries per capita.

Downsides: 3rd most expensive housing market, 4th most expensive cost of living, 20th for parks, 14th for daycares

GreatSchools Score: 5 out of 10

20. Los Angeles:

The second most populous city in the U.S., Los Angeles offers far more amenities to Hollywood stars than to families on a budget.

Upsides: 10th lowest crime, 10th for parks

Downsides: 2nd most expensive housing market, 8th highest cost of living, 4th longest commute, 18th for preschools, 14th for libraries, 16th for daycares

GreatSchools Score: 4 out of 10

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