Buying a Home: The 10 Best Cities for Families

10. San Diego

Population: 1,238,974
Average home cost: $145,700
Number of parks: 200

  • Accommodates working parents by opening all of its 196 elementary and middle schools from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for enrichment classes and recreational activities, the first citywide extended school day in the country
  • Is home to Children's Hospital and Health Center, San Diego, which ranked seventh in Child's evaluation of 178 pediatric centers
  • Boasts a fabulous climate, with more than 250 sunny days every year
  • Has great beaches, such as La Jolla Shores, which offers easy surf

City highlight: Vasco N??ez de Balboa might have been the first European guy to glimpse the Pacific, but Balboa Park -- the San Diego park named for the Spanish conquistador -- introduces many a Southern California kid to green, not blue. "Since San Diego's basically desert, there isn't much green except in the parks," observes Michael Behan, deputy parks and recreation director for the City of San Diego. "Our parks provide an abundance of lushness for families." Six thousand, five hundred acres of it, to be specific.

Balboa Park, the oldest park in San Diego, is the crown jewel. Its 1,200 acres house 15 museums (including the Children's Discovery Center, tailor-made for fledgling anthropologists, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, where the largest permanent toy train display in the U.S. is located), the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater (where marionettes clatter daily), and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. There, 4,000 exotic animals -- koalas, condors, and Komodo dragons among them -- cavort amid the palms and Spanish Colonial Revival-style and Art Deco buildings. The park, a world unto itself, is an oasis among the mesas.

A kid-scale "urban forest," as Behan dubs San Diego's parks -- more like an urban terrarium -- is the five-year-old Children's Park and Museum, situated smack dab in the heart of downtown San Diego. Where Balboa Park is a planet, the Children's Park is a haven, its grassy knolls and 200-foot water sculpture serving as a gathering place for center-city families and an apt reminder that San Diegans wear their hearts on their greens, both big and small.

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