2011: The 10 Healthiest Cities for Families

We gave 150 of the largest cities a checkup, and found that these park-filled, low-crime towns are golden.

  • Heather Weston

    Who hasn't rolled her eyes at her kid's school-lunch menu or thought twice about drinking her town's tap water? Parents gave 150 of the nation's largest cities a checkup, examining 40 criteria to see which ones are making your family's well-being a top priority. We were looking for schools that have frequent gym classes, kid doctors and specialists galore, businesses that don't pollute, parks in every neighborhood, and more. Check out these ten healthy havens.

  • Getty Images

    1. San Francisco

    Population 744,041
    Medical Care A
    Healthy Schools A
    Air & Water A+
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety A-

    The City by the Bay rose to the top of our list in part because of its gutsy moves to bring healthier foods to schools. San Fran booted soda and high-fat, empty-calorie food out of its schools in 2004 (five years before the state did) and was one of the first places in the country to push for school gardens. Salad bars -- stocked with California-grown produce and whole-grain breads -- debuted in 25 city schools in 2007; now at least half have them. "Students are definitely eating more fruits and vegetables at lunchtime since we installed the salad bars," says Ed Wilkins, school nutrition services director.

    San Francisco also goes the extra mile to keep kids active, running 182 playgrounds (including Golden Gate Playground, with one-of-a kind slides and a sand-castle-building area), 82 recreation centers, and 60 soccer fields. The Sunday Streets program creates miles of car-free roads during designated times so families can get outside without traffic worries. "My 3-year-old squealed when she rode her bike down the middle of the steep roads near our house," says Sumi Das, a spokesperson for the 4,300-member Golden Gate Mothers group.

  • Courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

    2. Boston

    Population 617,594
    Medical Care A+
    Healthy Schools B
    Air & Water B-
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety A

    The city has more than 400 kids' docs, a state-of-the-art children's hospital, and one of the largest pediatric research facilities in the U.S. "The level of care here is extraordinary," says Jill Rosenthal Notkin, founder of the popular Boston blog The Daily Grind of a Work@Home Mom. "My daughter had dozens of office and lab visits before her first birthday, and the doctors and their staffs were universally clear, timely, and caring." On the food and fitness fronts: Boston recently added 33 miles of bike lanes and launched a program to educate families, youth organizations, and other groups about alternatives to sugary drinks.

  • Getty images

    3. Honolulu

    Population 377,357
    Medical Care A
    Healthy Schools B-
    Air & Water A
    Outdoor Fun A+
    Family Safety B

    It really is paradise. Honolulu has the least ozone pollution of any U.S. city, according to a recent report from the American Lung Association. "We're fortunate enough to have low humidity, cooling trade winds, and very little industrial pollution -- all of which makes the city's air pristine," says Ross Tanimoto, deputy director of the department of environmental services. In fact, Honolulu families spend tons of time outside. All the city's gorgeous beaches are public property so they're free to visit, and many have grassy areas nearby where kids can run around. Plus, the city offers 225 playgrounds and 22 swimming pools. "Organized sports are a big deal here for both kids and adults," says Marcella Kopa, a NICU nurse and mom of two. "I love that my kids see practically all our neighbors, whether they're 6 or 60, being active."

  • Getty Images

    4. Seattle

    Population 582,454
    Medical Care A+
    Healthy Schools B
    Air & Water B
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety A-

    Kids aren't as likely to get hurt in this safety-minded town. Seattle has one of the lowest death rates from childhood injuries in the U.S. "Washington was the first state to pass a booster-seat law, and it's since updated that legislation to make it among the best in the country," says Katharine Fitzgerald, director of marketing and health promotion at Seattle Children's Hospital. In the last year, the hospital provided 480 car seats at low cost and gave 2,500 bike helmets to local families. Alayne Sulkin, publisher of ParentMap.com, a website for Seattle moms, points out these other perks: an annual fun run for 3- to 5-year-olds, forward-thinking companies with parental paid leave and flexible work schedules, and a downtown farmers' market.

  • Getty Images

    5. Providence, Rhode Island

    Population 175,255
    Medical Care A+
    Healthy Schools B
    Air & Water B-
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety A

    This small, tight-knit community thinks big. Providence has as many playgrounds and ball fields as cities two to three times its size, plus its own top-notch children's hospital. The food scene is superb, with lots of mom-and-pop caf?s in town, many serving up local seafood. "It's not unusual to see 3- and 4-year-olds digging into clams or shrimp here," says local restaurant owner Ellen Gracylyny, a mom of two. A recent perk: Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a group of 40 local family farms, has set up a "local food guide," which lists all the nearby farmers' markets, farm stands, pick-your-own farms, and community-supported agriculture programs. It also highlights restaurants and private schools that buy locally grown food.

  • Courtesy of the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau

    6. Des Moines, Iowa

    Population 193,886
    Medical Care A
    Healthy Schools B-
    Air & Water A
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety B-

    It's easy to live in this Midwestern town, which happens to be the home of Meredith Corporation, publisher of Parents. You can drive from the 'burbs to downtown in less than 20 minutes -- even during rush hour. The city also offers free yoga classes at some public parks, daily recess for all elementary-school students, 40 miles of fitness trails, and enclosed downtown skywalks so families can keep active even in bad weather.

  • Courtesy of www.sandiego.org

    7. San Diego

    Population 1,256,951
    Medical Care A-
    Healthy Schools B+
    Air & Water C+
    Outdoor Fun A-
    Family Safety A

    Your kid is more likely to eat his fruits and veggies here. Every public elementary school has a salad bar and is aiming for 25 percent or more of produce to come from local growers. Plus there are 40 city farmers' markets. "That's where my kids discovered that they like heirloom tomatoes," says Debbie Anderson, founder of the blog San Diego Momma. The low crime rate, year-round mild weather, 33 beaches, and a new autism discovery center at the local children's hospital also helped the city make the list.

  • Getty Images

    8. Denver

    Population 566,974
    Medical Care A+
    Healthy Schools B-
    Air & Water B
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety B

    Welcome to the most active city on our list -- nearly 85 percent of the city's residents exercise and more than half get at least the recommended amount per week. Among them: Colorado governor and dad John Hickenlooper, who was Denver's mayor for nearly eight years. "I've been taking my 9-year-old son, Teddy, rock climbing a lot lately," says Hickenlooper. "We're also hoping for a kayak trip on the South Platte River, which runs through town." The governor's family also enjoys the city's 240 urban parks, bike paths, and, in the winter, free downtown ice rink. Plus, every fifth-grader in the state gets a free ski pass.

  • Getty Images

    9. Portland, Oregon

    Population 537,081
    Medical Care B
    Healthy Schools C+
    Air & Water A
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety A

    Consider it bike central. "Many families use their bikes more than their cars," says Olivia Rebanal, cofounder of UrbanMamas.com. "They take them on errands, to the supermarket, even to school." Portland sponsors low-cost summer and after-school bike camps for kids as young as 6, to help children learn the basics. Biking has become so popular with families that some elementary schools in town have recently added more bike racks, and the New Seasons Market supermarket has just as much bike parking as car parking. Another eco-idea that's beginning to take root: community gardens. Portland has 37 of them, and some offer free gardening classes for kids. Says Peggy Acott, community-outreach director at Portland Nursery: "The children's gardening program has donated more than 1,000 pounds of produce to local food banks over the last three years."

  • Courtesy of Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau

    10. Lincoln, Nebraska

    Population 241,167
    Medical Care B-
    Healthy Schools B-
    Air & Water A
    Outdoor Fun A
    Family Safety B

    It's gone green. Through its "Cleaner Greener" program, Lincoln installed 13 hybrid buses, maintained 130,000 neighborhood trees, and is close to having a park within a half mile of every house in the city. That's on top of the excellent air and water quality; Lincoln didn't exceed the ozone or particle pollution levels on any day in 2010. And families can feel safe while being outdoors on the city's 128 miles of trails. The crime rate is low and the average commute in town is 17 minutes, so you have more time to spend with the kids.

  • R. Kennedy for GPTMC

    The Runners-Up: See How More Cities Fared

    11. St. Louis, Missouri
    12. Spokane, Washington
    13. Irvine, California
    14. Cincinnati, Ohio
    15. Oakland, California
    16. New York City, New York
    17. Sacramento, California
    18. Santa Rosa, California
    19. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (pictured)
    20. Santa Clarita, California
    21. Tacoma, Washington
    22. Cleveland, Ohio
    23. Springfield, Massachusetts
    24. San Jose, California
    25. Austin, Texas
    26. Overland Park, Kansas
    27. Buffalo, New York
    28. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    29. Worchester, Massachusetts
    30. Birmingham, Alabama
    31. Madison, Wisconsin
    32. Oceanside, California
    33. Los Angeles, California
    34. Huntington Beach, California
    35. Yonkers, New York

  • iStockphoto

    36. St. Paul, Minnesota
    37. Fort Wayne, Indiana (pictured)
    38. Rochester, New York
    39. Fremont, California
    40. St. Petersburg, Florida
    41. Salt Lake City, Utah
    42. Norfolk, Virginia
    43. Durham, North Carolina
    44. Charlotte, North Carolina
    45. Glendale, Arizona
    46. Aurora, Colorado
    47. Albuquerque, New Mexico
    48. Springfield, Missouri
    49. Corpus Christi, Texas
    50. Toledo, Ohio
    51. Arlington, Virginia
    52. Akron, Ohio
    53. Virginia Beach, Virginia
    54. Vancouver, Washington
    55. Greensboro, North Carolina
    56. Oxnard, California
    57. Kansas City, Missouri
    58. Scottsdale, Arizona
    59. Knoxville, Tennessee
    60. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

  • iStockphoto

    61. Nashville, Tennessee
    62. Augusta, Georgia
    63. Glendale, California
    64. Lexington, Kentucky
    65. Anaheim, California
    66. Raleigh, North Carolina
    67. Richmond, Virginia
    68. Columbus, Ohio
    69. Phoenix, Arizona (pictured)
    70. Miami, Florida
    71. Santa Ana, California
    72. Long Beach, California
    73. Chicago, Illinois
    74. Colorado Springs, Colorado
    75. Jackson, Mississippi
    76. Garden Grove, California
    77. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    78. Mesa, Arizona
    79. Indianapolis, Indiana
    80. Orlando, Florida
    81. Dallas, Texas
    82. Mobile, Alabama
    83. Shreveport, Louisiana
    84. Wichita, Kansas
    85. Baltimore, Maryland

  • Flickr/Getty Images

    86. Little Rock, Arkansas
    87. Houston, Texas
    88. Omaha, Nebraska
    89. Fort Worth, Texas
    90. Atlanta, Georgia (pictured)
    91. Irving, Texas
    92. Jersey City, New Jersey
    93. Memphis, Tennessee
    94. Jacksonville, Florida
    95. Tampa, Florida
    96. Chandler, Arizona
    97. Minneapolis, Minnesota
    98. El Paso, Texas
    99. New Orleans, Louisiana
    100. Plano, Texas
    101. Louisville, Kentucky
    102. Chattanooga, Tennessee
    103. Huntsville, Alabama
    104. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
    105. Chesapeake, Virginia
    106. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
    107. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    108. Rockford, Illinois
    109. Rancho Cucamonga, California
    110. Newark, New Jersey

  • Getty Images

    111. Henderson, Nevada
    112. Washington, DC (pictured)
    113. Anchorage, Alaska
    114. Grand Rapids, Michigan
    115. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    116. Riverside California
    117. Tulsa, Oklahoma
    118. Montgomery, Alabama
    119. Fayetteville, North Carolina
    120. San Bernardino, California
    121. Fresno, California
    122. Fontana, California
    123. Bakersfield, California
    124. Arlington, Texas
    125. Tucson, Arizona
    126. Detroit, Michigan
    127. Brownsville, Texas
    128. Grand Prairie, Texas
    129. Hialeah, Florida
    130. Laredo, Texas

  • Jack Coyier

    131. Ontario, California
    132. Newport News, Virginia
    133. San Antonio, Texas (pictured)
    134. Boise, Idaho
    135. Peoria, Arizona
    136. Tallahassee, Florida
    137. Tempe, Arizona
    138. Moreno Valley, California
    139. Garland, Texas
    140. Aurora, Illinois
    141. Modesto, California
    142. Chula Vista, California
    143. North Las Vegas, Nevada
    144. Reno, Nevada
    145. Stockton, California
    146. Amarillo, Texas
    147. Gilbert, Arizona
    148. Columbus, Georgia
    149. Lubbock, Texas
    150. Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Lara Robby

    The Scoop on the Survey

    Between January and June 2011, Parents gathered data on 40 criteria pertaining to a family's health and well-being in 150 of the largest U.S. cities. The following organizations contributed data, advice, or both for this story: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, Care.com, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Environmental Protection Agency, Let's Move!, Little League Baseball & Softball, National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, National Association for Sport and Physical Education, National Conference of State Legislatures, Safe Kids USA, School Nutrition Association, The Commonwealth Fund, Environmental Working Group, The Trust for Public Land, U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Parents magazine.