People pondering parenthood have long felt like they’ve landed in a high-stakes Choose Your Own Adventure story: Should they raise their family in a lively urban environment with limitless options for culture and entertainment, or opt for a more placid area with lots of green space and good schools—the real estate equivalent of eating your spinach?
But the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the equation. Those fun urban locations seem a lot less fun these days, and having more space indoors and out became more appealing to everyone, especially those with kids. And it turns out that prioritizing bigger houses and better school systems doesn’t necessarily mean giving up big-city perks. To prove it, the data team at Realtor.com® set out to find the best suburbs outside the nation’s biggest cities that offer a rewarding lifestyle for parents as well as kids.
Since the start of the pandemic, Americans have been moving farther and farther away from major metros, in part for more space and in part for more affordable housing options. This is especially true of millennial parents who may not be as financially stable as their parents were a generation ago.
“With more years of saving and historically low interest rates, a lot of millennials have decided to become homeowners during the pandemic,” says Jung Choi, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC.
Many of these millennials, especially highly educated ones with jobs that allow remote work, are increasingly buying homes in the suburbs, Choi says.
“More people are making the decision to move a bit farther away from work to find more affordable housing where there are still some urban amenities,” Choi says.
To come up with our list of suburbs for America’s cool moms and dads, we started by looking at the nation’s 11 largest cities. (How could we leave out San Francisco?) Then we looked at the surrounding suburbs in each metro area with at least 10,000 people.
We took into account the percentage of children living in each city, school rankings, and family-friendly businesses (including day care centers). To make sure these were places parents would want to live, too, there had to be plenty of restaurants, bars, and things to do, as well as a reasonable commute (most are under 40 minutes) for when they do have to go to the office.
These days moving to the suburbs doesn’t have to mean giving up big-city amenities.
Tony Frenzel for Realtor.com
1. Denville, NJ
Nearest city: New York, NY
Median home price in July: $549,050
Less than an hour by train to midtown Manhattan, Denville can feel like a world away from the city’s hustle and bustle.
With 11 bodies of water, including four lakes, this town in New Jersey’s Morris County was once a popular summer destination for urbanites. Babe Ruth owned a home and spent time with his family here in the 1930s and ’40s. But with plenty of amenities and solid schools, people are spending more than just a season in Denville these days. (A more recent famous resident of Denville was Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who lived there until 2018.)
The charming downtown is filled with shops and restaurants, including the Denville Dairy, an ice cream shop that’s been around for 50 years. There are also a few vegan restaurants that have popped up over the years, catering to the large cohort of ex-Brooklynites who now call Denville home.
“The downtown has a diverse array of merchants so it’s not only restaurants. There are tons of shopping opportunities,” says Toni Kaufmann, a Realtor® at Realty Executives Platinum Agents.
“Within a quarter-mile of that, we have a huge recreation field with a brand-new playground, tennis courts, and basketball courts. You can pick up a game anytime,” adds Kaufmann, who grew up in Denville.
Denville has an active youth sports scene, including soccer, hockey, and softball teams. Kids can also join the Hub Lakes League, an association of 12 lake communities in the area competing in more than a dozen sports.
Because many houses were built as vacation or secondary homes, they tend to run on the small side—especially lakefront properties. A small log cabin tucked away along Cedar Lake is currently on the market for $429,000. For those looking for more space, a four-bedroom with a pool on 1.25 acres is listed for $899,900.
2. El Monte, CA
Nearest city: Los Angeles, CA
Median home price in July: $599,050
El Monte is a family-oriented bedroom community located just outside Los Angeles, but there’s plenty of things to do here with kids on the weekend without heading into the city.
The Tyler Avenue Heritage District is home to two museums (La Historia Society and El Monte Historical Museum) and an aquatic center. The city also hosts family-friendly events throughout the year, including a sidewalk chalk art contest at the beginning of summer and the Emily Ishigaki Children’s Day Parade in October.
Homes here are generally on the smaller side but offer an affordable alternative to L.A. This three-bedroom home was just listed for $550,000.
An aerial view of homes in Libertyville, IL, outside of Chicago.
Nearest city: Chicago, IL
Median home price in July: $565,050
This Chicago suburb is just a few miles from Lake Michigan, so residents here are close to cosmopolitan amenities and outdoor activities. Closer to home, Libertyville’s historic downtown offers many shops to explore.
On the first Friday of each month, some merchants feature art, music, and refreshments, and a weekly farmers market runs from May to October. Weekends are perfect for exploring kid-friendly places like the Dunn Museum, an interactive museum that teaches the history of Lake County. The Adler Arts Center is also a popular destination and offers art camps and classes to children year-round.
For a more adult evening, Milwaukee Avenue has plenty of romantic restaurants and breweries as well as live music and improv shows.
Homes in Libertyville can get pricey. Earlier this year, Chicago Bears legend Brian Urlacher unloaded his estate there for $1.5 million. For a more affordable option, a four-bedroom home within walking distance to the highly rated Butterfield Elementary School is currently listed for $579,900.
4. Coppell, TX
Nearest city: Dallas, TX
Median home price in July: $550,050
Located a half-hour northwest of Dallas, Coppell is a good option for families looking to spread out but still be near the big city.
Outdoor activities abound, including kayaking on the Trinity River and walking the trails at Coppell Nature Park. Parents of aspiring naturalists should also be sure to check out the Biodiversity Education Center inside the park. Families can pick up free activity kits or participate in other hands-on education programs.
For some culture, the newly built Coppell Arts Center hosts events for all ages. Upcoming shows there include Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth and “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” (a stage version of the beloved 1970s children’s program). The local library also hosts indoor and outdoor storytime as well as a book club for adults.
5. Tomball, TX
A neighborhood in Tomball, TX, outside of Houston.
Nearest city: Houston, TX
Median home price in July: $399,950
Once an oil town, Tomball (about 30 miles northwest of Houston) is now a prime spot for families, with a small-town feel but big-city perks. Old Town Tomball on Main Street has plenty of things to do and places to eat, including some of the best smoked meat in the state at Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue. The historic downtown also hosts several festivals throughout the year, including the Honky Tonk Chili Challenge in May and the Tomball German Christmas Market in December.
Residents here can take advantage of the Texas weather by exploring hiking and biking trails. For a free, rainy-day activity, the Tomball Railroad Depot museum showcases train memorabilia, art, antiques, and two model railroads.
With all those amenities and good schools, the population in Tomball is expected to nearly double by 2030, according to the city’s comprehensive plan. That’s why there has been an increase in home construction—more than 2,000 new homes are expected to be built within the next five years.
6. Exton, PA
Nearest city: Philadelphia, PA
Median home price in July: $578,550
This small city outside of Philadelphia is where many people come to shop. The large commercial center has reliable fast-casual restaurants and big-box stores. But on the other side of town, nature lovers can explore Exton Park, a 727-acre green space with hiking trails and playing fields. Two smaller parks in the city have tennis and basketball courts for a family pickup game.
Amid the many shopping centers, there’s a large mix of condos and townhomes. A three-bedroom townhouse with access to a community pool and tennis courts is currently listed for $345,000. For a more typical suburban feel, the northern part of the city has more single-family homes—like this Cape Cod located in the highly rated Downingtown East School District.
7. Olney, MD
Nearest city: Washington, DC
Median home price in July: $495,050
About 25 miles north of downtown DC, this former sleepy suburb is now a hotbed of culture and good eats. Foodies and adventurous eaters have tons of restaurants to choose from, from Peruvian to Japanese to Vietnamese. For a more adult night on the town, Olney Ale House is an old favorite with plenty of brews on tap.
Olney also has a huge theater scene. The Olney Theater Center puts on shows year-round and has camps and programs for aspiring young thespians. There are plenty of kid-friendly performances to take in, too, including Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” this fall.
There are a variety of homes in Olney, including a two-bedroom condo within walking distance to the public library and schools. Those looking for a little more room can take a look at this five-bedroom Colonial currently listed for $715,000.
Aerial photo of homes in Pembroke Pines, FL.
Nearest city: Miami, FL
Median home price in July: $589,050
Living in Pembroke Pines, a suburb of Miami in Broward County, can feel like being on vacation year-round. With its tropical climate and endless sunny days, residents can take advantage of area golf courses and amazing restaurants, or take a quick jaunt to the beach. Its proximity to major highways and easy access to the airport is another reason this suburb is so appealing.
Most importantly for parents, though, Pembroke Pines is best known for its outstanding schools. From public to private options, there’s something for everyone. Perhaps most impressive is the city’s charter school system, which began in the 1990s to prevent overcrowding in schools.
The 75-acre, master-planned campus includes four elementary schools, three middle schools, and a high school. It also includes a regional library and the Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts.
One caveat: Because of its robust offerings, the Pembroke Pines Charter School System has a waiting list of more than 5,000 applicants, according to its website.
There are three lakes and plenty to do in Peachtree City, GA.
Nearest city: Atlanta, GA
Median home price in July: $465,050
This master-planned community outside of Atlanta is a walkable paradise for families. One of its most distinguishing features is its 100 miles of paved paths that connect to the city’s five distinct villages, each with its own shopping areas, recreational facilities, and elementary schools. Many residents here own a golf cart to get around, but the trails can also be used for biking or running.
Busy parents who need to grab takeout after a long day at work can choose from one of the city’s more than 100 restaurants. Other things to do here include catching a concert at the Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater, better known as The Fred. For older kids and film buffs, the Southern Hollywood Film Tour highlights places in the city that were used as backdrops for popular TV shows and movies, including “The Walking Dead” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
10. Burlington, MA
Nearest city: Boston, MA
Median home price in July: $649,950
Just 40 minutes from Boston, this once sleepy bedroom community now has plenty of things for parents and kids alike. One of the town’s main attractions is the massive Burlington Mall. With its 185 shops and dozens of restaurants, it served as primary location for the Kevin James film “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” (Yep, it’s OK to admit you’re a fan.)
But it’s not all chain cuisine here: Chefs from the city have slowly been making their way north to Burlington. From steak to seafood, gourmands can enjoy food that’s more on par with Boston’s South End. There are also tons of community events, including concerts and movies on the common and the annual Celebrate Burlington, a carnival that takes place in summer.
Homes here are mainly ranch or split-levels built in the 1950s and ’60s. An updated three-bedroom ranch home is currently listed for under $550,000. Because there’s little space to build new homes in Burlington, most new construction happens when developers raze older homes. Those homes are significantly more pricey. A not-yet finished Colonial is on the market for nearly $1.5 million.
11. Walnut Creek, CA
Broadway Plaza is an open-air shopping center in Walnut Creek, CA.
FASTILY, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Nearest city: San Francisco, CA
Median home price in July: $699,950
The most expensive suburb on this list, Walnut Creek still offers buyers some respite from what they would pay in nearby San Francisco or Oakland. It also boasts good schools, lots of shops, and, as you might expect, a big food scene.
Walnut Creek also has 16 parks and thousands of acres of undeveloped space. Heather Farms, a 102-acre park, features a sprawling, all-abilities playground, a lake, and botanical gardens. The school system is well-rated, and there are plenty of extracurriculars for kids.
“Parents don’t necessarily have to become those suburban hermits; they can lead some semblance of a city life,” says Elena Mendelson, a real estate agent at Compass who raised her children in Walnut Creek.
Homes here can get pretty expensive: A two-bedroom ranch built in the 1950s just came on the market for $850,000.
“We’re still fairly affordable for the quality you’re getting,” Mendelson says.