The 12 Best Small Towns in California to Raise a Family in 2022

We found the 12 best small towns in California to raise a family that are charming, safe, have a great school system, and offer a real sense of community.

These towns are a great, relaxed alternative to the overcrowded large cities of California and still provide all of the amenities that you would expect.

We made sure to find places that offered a tight-knit community that you would be proud to call home.

We also tried to find the best small towns in California to raise a family that were close enough to some major cities, but secluded enough so that you could enjoy your own oasis of calm in the Golden State.

So, let’s see where the best small towns in California to raise a family in 2022 are located.

Before we dive into our top choices, we wanted to let you know how we researched these places so that you can have confidence and trust in our results.

What does it mean to be a good place to raise a family in California? Also, what is considered a “small” town?

For the first question, we used a variety of metrics to determine what the ideal town for a family would be, including:

  • Quality of public school system
  • Crime rates
  • Distance to major cities
  • Attractions and things to do
  • Affordability

For the schools, we used Niche.com’s database of public school grades and for crime rates, we used AreaVibes’ stats that come from the latest FBI reports.

Of course, not every town could score well on all of these criteria, especially the affordability category in California, but we tried our best to find places that provide a strong blend of all of these variables overall.

For the size of the places, we define a “small town” to be a place that has a population of 30,000 people or less. Therefore, many quality places like Folsom and Mountain View did not make the list, even though they aren’t that big to begin with.

Instead, we focused on finding places that are really cozy and give off a true small town vibe.

The 12 Best Small Towns in California to Raise a Family in 2022

12. Sonoma

Best-Small-Towns-in-California-to-Raise-a-Family-Sonoma

Population: 11,024
Public School Grade: B
Crime Rate: 57% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Sonoma starts off our list of the best small towns in California to raise a family. While this wine country town is probably best known for its Chardonnays, many people overlook it as a great place for families to grow.

It’s located less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco and features a charming downtown and easy access to California’s beautiful natural landscapes.

11. Imperial

Population: 18,120
Public School Grade: B+
Crime Rate: 87% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Imperial, California is one of the fastest growing cities in the state and is quickly gaining popularity among young families.

It is located just 20 minutes from the Mexican border and 2 hours from San Diego.

It offers excellent affordability, which is about 24% cheaper than the rest of California, as well as an extremely low crime rate and a solid school system.

10. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best-Small-Towns-in-California-to-Raise-a-Family-Carmel-by-the-Sea

Population: 3,220
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 11% above California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

This idyllic beach town is one of the best small towns in California to raise a family on the waterfront. It is a great choice for nature lovers and for those who truly want to slow their pace of life.

Meanwhile, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a great school district that is well-regarded nationwide and is located just an hour south of San Jose, so you can take advantage of all of the job opportunities in the big city while living close to the beach.

It is also close to the city of Monterey, which we named as one of the top places to settle in California.

9. Half Moon Bay

Population: 11,795
Public School Grade: A-
Crime Rate: 62% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Half Moon Bay is just a 30 minute drive from San Francisco, but offers a completely different way of life with easy living directly on the coast.

It features a quaint little downtown area and access to many state parks and beaches adjacent to the town. 

The town also holds annual events and festivals throughout the year, making it a top choice for those looking for a tight-knit community.

8. San Marino

Population: 13,048
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 26% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

This suburb of Los Angeles is a quiet and exclusive little escape from the big city. It also features some of the best schools in the state.

The San Marino Unified School District has been ranked as the top-performing public school district in California for 18 years in a row.

But, this high standard of living comes at a price, as homes are rarely listed for under $2 million in San Marino, California.

7. Los Gatos

Population: 33,529
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 45% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Los Gatos is just a bit larger than our 30,000 people or less cutoff, but we couldn’t think of leaving this beautiful town off the list.

Located at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Los Gatos is a small town that offers a strong sense of community that is not usually found in this part of California.

Its downtown is filled with Victorian-era style homes and retail stores. Its close proximity to many tech headquarters also makes it one of the best small towns in California to raise a family in the Silicon Valley area.

6. Monte Sereno

Population: 3,427
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 79% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Right across the highway from Los Gatos is Monte Sereno. This small town is known to offer a high quality public school system just like its neighbor.

However, this town is virtually all residential and 99% of its homes are single-family homes, making it perfect for families who want to truly seclude themselves from commercial activities.

Still, downtown Los Gatos is just a 5 minute drive away and San Jose can be reached in only 15 minutes from Monte Sereno.

5. Solana Beach

Best-Small-Towns-in-California-to-Raise-a-Family-Solana-Beach

Population: 13,296
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 51% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Solana Beach is a hidden gem located right on the coastline in Southern California. San Diego is just a 30 minute drive from this laid-back beach town that offers its own amenities and things to do.

Additionally, Solana Beach’s school system consistently receives excellent ratings and the town itself is known to be quite safe, making it a top choice for young families.

4. Kentfield

Population: 6,485
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 67% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Kentfield is located in Marin County and just a 40 minute drive from San Francisco. It is often regarded as one of the best suburbs of San Francisco and offers several quiet neighborhoods that are perfect for families that are just starting out.

3. Los Altos Hills

Population: 8,423
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 70% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Los Altos Hills is an upscale community that is probably best known for its expensive homes, which is one of the highest in the state.

The town is also famous for its ban on commercial zones, making it a great place for families who want a quiet place to live away from the public.

For those who can afford it, Los Altos Hills offers some of the best public schools in the state and a strong sense of safety.

2. Rancho Santa Fe

Population: 3,117
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 84% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

The beautiful Rancho Santa Fe is the smallest town on this list, but is one of the most well-rounded places as well.

It is located only 30 minutes from San Diego and just a 10 minute drive from the beach.

Meanwhile, Niche.com ranked Rancho Santa Fe as having the best public schools in all of California.

Rancho Santa Fe’s strong focus on education combined with its low crime rates truly makes it one of the best small towns in California to raise a family.

1. Corte Madera

Best-Small-Towns-in-California-to-Raise-a-Family-Corte-Madera

Population: 10,222
Public School Grade: A+
Crime Rate: 65% below California average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Corte Madera tops our study as the best small town in California to raise a family. This idyllic town is located just 30 minutes from San Francisco and offers virtually everything a young family would want.

There are numerous parks and playgrounds among its tree-lined streets and as well as a thriving commercial district that features the Town Center Corte Madera and The Village at Corte Madera.

Additionally, Corte Madera’s highly regarded school system makes it a perfect place for young families to consider relocating to.

Best Small Towns in California to Raise a Family – Summary

Overall, our research has found that these are the best small towns in California to raise a family in 2022:

  1. Corte Madera
  2. Rancho Santa Fe
  3. Los Altos Hills
  4. Kentfield
  5. Solana Beach
  6. Monte Sereno
  7. Los Gatos
  8. San Marino
  9. Half Moon Bay
  10. Carmel-by-the-Sea
  11. Imperial
  12. Sonoma

There is really no wrong choice here for young families looking to move. It will just depend on your preference and which large city you would like to be near to for work.