The 10 Best Cities for Babies

Parents researched, graded and ranked cities across the country to determine the perfect locales for young families.

  • Alexandra Grablewski

    How We Ranked Them

    Pediatric experts and mommy bloggers helped us determine 35 important factors for young families to consider when moving with baby. If info wasn't readily available, we dug it up, calculating what your taxes will be, the odds of having a sex offender on your block, even the number of baby swings in the parks. We gave the 100 biggest U.S. cities a letter grade in five categories.

    Our Grading Key:
    A-- Awesome
    B--Very Good
    C--Not Bad
    D--Below Average
    F--Terrible

    Keep reading to find out which places are booming for babies.

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    1. Scottsdale, Arizona

    Population 238,715
    Child Care B+
    Family Safety A+
    Fun for You and Baby A-
    Infant Health B
    Money Matters B

    This western town is far from wild. Scottsdale's stellar safety record helped earn it the #1 spot on our list. "It's common to see moms pushing strollers around the neighborhoods, even at night," says police chief Alan Rodbell. "Our crime rate is the lowest it's ever been -- which is well below the national average -- so families can enjoy the outdoors."

    Scottsdale has plenty of recreation space too, with 67 miles of paved trails and 105 miles of bike lanes. There are 22 playgrounds with baby swings, and because of the warm-year-round climate, many also include pop-up fountains. "Outsiders think of Scottsdale as a retirement community, but there are a good number of active, health-conscious families here," says Joy Cherrick, founder of the Scottsdale Moms Blog, whose daughter, Reagan, is 14 months. "A lot of moms make their own baby food and buy locally, whether it's produce from the farmers' market or baby toys from one of the many downtown shops." Plenty of child-care centers and pediatricians, as well as a fairly low unemployment rate (6.4 percent at press time) also make for easy living with a baby.

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    2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

    Population 255,890
    Child Care A
    Family Safety B+
    Fun for You and Baby A+
    Infant Health B-
    Money Matters B+

    It's simple to comparison shop for child care here. A decade ago, the Early Childhood Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Fort Wayne, started a quality-improvement system to rate the city's child-care businesses based on health and safety standards, education of staff, and other factors. It became so successful, the entire state now does it. "Parents can type their zip code into the website childcareindiana.org to find their local agency. They'll get the rating, staff-child ratios, and hours of all their local centers," says Madeleine Baker, ECA's executive director. "Having this information gives them a big head start in their selection process."

    Other pluses to living in this Midwestern town: plenty of moms groups and 24 miles of scenic, stroller-friendly trails along the banks of the town's three rivers.

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    3. Lincoln, Nebraska

    Population 254,001
    Child Care A-
    Family Safety B-
    Fun for You and Baby A+
    Infant Health B-
    Money Matters B+

    Lincoln is literally a breath of fresh air. It was the only city in our survey not to exceed the ozone or particle pollution thresholds on any day in 2009. Healthy air adds up to a lower rate of childhood asthma.

    "We make sure that local businesses comply with the state's standards, which are a bit stricter than federal ones," says Rick Thorson, environmental-health supervisor for air quality at the health department. Plus, the unemployment rate is 4.6 percent -- less than half of the national average.

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    4. Pittsburgh

    Population 311,647
    Child Care B+
    Family Safety B-
    Fun for You and Baby A-
    Infant Health B
    Money Matters A+

    It's a bargain to live here. There's no tax on diapers, baby clothes, or food, saving you a few grand a year. Housing is cheap too; the average home sells for less than $110,000, up to four times lower than the cost in some other big cities.

    To attract more families to the area, the city recently started The Pittsburgh Promise, which will give all eligible public-school graduating seniors a scholarship toward a college in the state; starting in 2012, students who maintain a 2.5 GPA through high school can earn up to $10,000 per year "Parents worry about paying for college from the time their child is born," points out Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whose son, Cooper, is 20 months old.

    Ravenstahl's favorite daddy-son outings: the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium; a Pirates game (you can get tickets for as little as $12 for adults and $6 for kids); and the Carnegie Science Center (the Exploration Station Jr. has a ball factory and a tree trunk filled with animal puppets).

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    5. Portland, Oregon

    Population 566,141
    Child Care B-
    Family Safety B+
    Fun for You and Baby B
    Infant Health A+
    Money Matters B-

    Breastfeeding is part of the culture in Oregon. More than 90 percent of new moms nurse, and two thirds stick with it for at least six months, reducing babies' risk of many health problems, from ear infections to diabetes. Those rates are 25 percent higher than the national average. "Portland is a city that supports breastfeeding," says Lillian Shirley, director of the Multnomah County Health Department. "State laws permit nursing in public and require employers to give moms time to pump."

    Babies aren't the only ones eating well. "The city has a fabulous food scene," says Hau Hagedorn, cofounder of the Portland blog urbanMamas and mother of Hendrik, 20 months old. Many local restaurants accommodate young families with such amenities as changing tables in the bathroom and organic milk on the menu.

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    6. Madison, Wisconsin

    Population 311,647
    Child Care C+
    Family Safety A
    Fun for You and Baby B+
    Infant Health B+
    Money Matters A-

    Safety comes first here. While some towns in our survey don't have a single place to get a car seat checked, Madison has 11, the highest rate of any city in the survey. "You just call to schedule an appointment. You don't have to wait in a long line," says Nicole Vesely, coordinator of Safe Kids Madison, a group that sponsors the checks. The organization also educates parents about babyproofing and gives out home-safety kits with outlet plugs to parents at events.

    Another regular family-friendly outing: "We have an amazing four-block farmers' market every weekend downtown," says Heidi Duss, mom of Finnegan, 2. "After buying goodies from the market, families and friends put down blankets on the capitol lawn and let the kids run around." With the average house just shy of $200,000 and low unemployment, the city is well within the family budget too.

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    7. Phoenix, Arizona

    Population 1,601,587
    Child Care A
    Family Safety A
    Fun for You and Baby A+
    Infant Health C+
    Money Matters B-

    Active families abound. With nearly 100 miles of scenic desert trails, hiking with the baby is a popular weekend activity. "For many new parents here, a baby backpack is just as crucial as a diaper bag," says David Urbinato, public-information officer for the city's parks and recreation department. There are hiking trails designated as "easy," many with paved paths and benches that are great for families. The city also offers low-cost art, tumbling, and music classes for 1-year-olds.

    Other pluses to living in the 'Valley of the Sun': plenty of child-care businesses and considerably lower home prices than its neighbor (and top-rated city) Scottsdale.

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    8. St. Paul, Minnesota

    Population 281,262
    Child Care C+
    Family Safety A-
    Fun for You and Baby B-
    Infant Health A-
    Money Matters A

    It's a close-knit community. "We all watch out for one another; almost everyone in our neighborhood participated in National Night Out, the crime-prevention program," says Andrea Whitaker, mom of 12-month-old Kendra. What's more, St. Paul has a very low rate of registered sex offenders -- almost four times fewer than that of neighboring Minneapolis.

    Family-owned corner stores abound, says Whitaker, and the town's Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is free and open year-round. "In the winter, we go to look at the gorgeous flowers and plants in the greenhouses. It feels like the tropics," she says.

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    9. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    Population 560,332
    Child Care A+
    Family Safety C+
    Fun for You and Baby A
    Infant Health B-
    Money Matters B-

    High-quality child care costs less in Oklahoma than in other states. The average bill for full-time infant care is $6,000 to $7,000 per year, considerably lower than that of many other states. Plus, the state picks up part of the cost for lower-income families. Residents are proud to live here. In a recent survey, more than 80 percent rated Oklahoma City as a good or a great place to raise a family, while the average rating for similar-size cities is 62 percent. Plus, the city is making a $700 million investment in public schools, so by the time your baby goes to kindergarten, her school will probably be new or renovated. And the residents are trying to become healthier. More than 40,000 are registered for the OKC Million, the city's innovative program to drop 1 million pounds.

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    10. Boston, Massachusetts

    Population 645,169
    Child Care B-
    Family Safety B+
    Fun for You and Baby B-
    Infant Health A+
    Money Matters B

    Babies are healthier here. "Because of Massachusetts' universal-health-care law, there are virtually no uninsured children in Boston, and all pregnant women have financial access to prenatal care through private insurance or public coverage," says Deborah Allen, director of the bureau of child, adolescent, and family health at the Boston Public Health Commission. As a result, the state had the lowest infant-mortality rate in the U.S. from 2004 to 2006.

    Beantown also has 278 pediatricians and 132 pediatric specialists, among the highest per-capita rates in the country. The quality of health care is amazing as well: Children's Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center develop new pediatric treatments that hospitals around the country copy. And while child care in town is pricey, its minimum staff-child ratios are among the lowest in the nation.

    Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

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