City acreage set aside for parks: 16%
Take a trial run: The Phoenician is a kid’s playground, with swimming pools and an ice cream bar. From $399; thephoenician.com
Sure, it’s better known for manicured fairways and sybaritic spas. But Scottsdale is also surprisingly welcoming of families. For one, it’s safe, with already-low crime rates dropping substantially in most categories last year. Scottsdale Unified has high graduation rates, and standardized test scores hover well above state and national averages. “We love the lifestyle, and we wanted to put down roots,” says Allison Small, founder of the online guide Mom Index, who moved here from Denver in 2003.
Come playtime, Scottsdale shines. Indian Bend Wash, a 71/2-mile greenbelt, links five community parks; McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a 16,000-acre sanctuary, is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art jump-starts minds with education programs. And those lush hotels with their massive aquatic playgrounds are great summer escapes—with a lower price tag.
Runners-up: Irvine, CA; Spokane; Missoula, MT