Denver is regarded as one of the top cities to live for families by many publications, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of great neighborhoods and suburbs to review when thinking of the “best” for those with kids.
If you’re relocating to Denver and looking for the best neighborhoods for your family and lifestyle, then this guide will give you some insight and my firsthand experience as I’ve spent lots of time in many of these suburbs. Or if you’re a Colorado resident and simply ready to buy or starting a family, then you came to the right place as well!
Table of Contents
Suburbs will typically offer the combination of the highest rated schools and lowest crime rates, so it’s no surprise that most of this list is just that. Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, and Parker could easily be substituted with smaller areas like Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills or Castle Rock but I chose to focus on where I see more families moving to.
I also left off the western slope, Evergreen and Golden, as well as Boulder and surrounding areas such as Niwot, Lafayette, Louisville and Broomfield. These are also amazing communities with great school, plenty of outdoor activities and safe with low crime, but the list can only be so big! I can suggest any of these based on your specific needs.
1) Highlands Ranch/Lone Tree
Founded in 1981, Highlands Ranch is a Master-Planned Community that sits just 15 miles south of Denver in Douglas County, and is known as the premier “family-friendly” neighborhood in Denver with great schools, low crime and plenty of outdoor activity options for kids and adults alike. The population of this popular suburb has surpassed 100,000, making it one of the most populous unincorporated communities in the United States.
Highlands Ranch features four state-of-the-art recreation centers, where membership is included as a part of the reasonable HOA dues. These rec centers are geographically spaced out throughout the community and have plenty of activities, leagues and classes for the kids. Add to that the 25 community parks, 2 skate parks, beautiful 60+ miles of hiking/biking trails and 2,000 acres of open space, and 4 dog parks, and you have a perfect community for families!
The feel you get walking, biking and driving through these neighborhoods and trails is that Highlands Ranch is one of the safest places to live in Denver.
Highlands Ranch is a part of the top-rated Douglas County school district, which boasts over 80 schools and 7,000 employees. DCSD has one of the highest graduation rates in the Denver Metro area at 89%, and scores an average of 12 percentage points higher on state assessments than state averages across all content areas. As of 2013, the district’s average ACT score was at 21.8.
Douglas County schools are also known as a very tech savvy, innovative district. They are constantly using the latest technology to push the boundaries and relate to newer generations of tech-savvy students. DCSD also prides itself on being one of the more transparent school districts around, giving stakeholders access to expenditures, budgets, and meeting/committee topics.
You can find condos starting at $150,000 to homes well over $,1,000,000 in Highlands Ranch, with many neighborhoods falling in the average home price range of $200,000-$400,000. Even with the current hot Denver market, you can still snag a nice 3 bedroom, 1500-2000 square foot home for mid to low 300s. Contrast that to areas closer to the city like Wash Park and Capital Hill and you’re easily paying $100,000 more for a comparable house and square footage.
Even with the recent influx of more businesses, many Highlands Ranch residents commute to the Denver Tech Center (10-15 minutes) or Downtown (30+ min depending on traffic). From the feedback I get, many see this as a welcome trade off for how much house you get for the money and the wonderful community that comes with it.
The Denver public transportation system, RTD, is planning to add lightrail station locations in Highlands Ranch and possibly Lone Tree in 2017. This would be a welcome addition to help keep traffic congestion at a reasonable level.
Highlands Ranch was established over 100 years ago by early pioneers, starting with the historic Highlands Ranch Mansion that was built over several years from 1891-1904. The 27,000 square foot, 14 bedroom mansion sits on a 250-acre ranch in the center of Highlands Ranch is now owned and operated by the Metro District of Highlands Ranch as of 2010. Recent renovations for the grand re-opening in 2012 costed around $6 million. I recommend driving or biking by to see it!
The first homes in Highlands Ranch were built in 1981, and since then the area has seen many builders and developers build out gorgeous sub-divisions and unique neighborhoods that has fueled it’s growth to over 35,000 households today.
1b) Lone Tree
Lone Tree is listed along with Highlands Ranch because they are adjoining communities with many of the same characteristics, demographics, and school districts. Lone Tree is a Home Rule Municipality, with a population of 11, 557. If you’re driving into Denver from the south, it’s the first community you’ll see to the west when coming up I-25.
Lone Tree is considered one of the premier areas in south Denver, with state of the art rec centers and water parks, the new Skyridge Medical Center, very low crime rates, and close access to shopping and I-25.
2) Washington Park
The Washington Park neighborhood, or better known locally as “Wash Park” is Denver’s most popular and well-known park due in large part to it’s feel good, active vibe and stunning park landscape. The neighborhoods in Washington Park are on the east and west side of the park, and consist mostly of brick bungalows, although there are more and more “scrapes” and custom built homes popping up to replace some of the 100+ year old homes.
The area and park borders I-25, and is easily walkable to multiple light-rail station, restaurants, and shops such as old Gaylord Street or South Pearl Street. Just take 1 walk through this tree-lined, energetic community and you’ll see why it’s a popular choice for the young, active professional, vibrant retirees, and families that want to raise their kids in a safe and active city-like neighborhood.
Originally built in 1899, the centrally-located Wash Park spans 165 acres and features 2 lakes, a paved inner bike/pedestrian path and an outer 2-mile crushed granite jogging path, a beautiful recreation center with an indoor pool, 10 tennis courts, and vast open lawn space that is frequently used for volleyball, soccer, BBQ’s, and summer concerts.
Other Park Features:
- 2 playgrounds, 1 handicap accessible
- Fitness course
- Historic boat house, rentable for parties and events
- Horseshoe pit
- Lawn bowling area
- Outdoor basketball court
- Paddleboat, kayak and bike rentals
- 54 flower beds and 25,000 plants are planted annually
Wash Park elementary schools, Lincoln and Steele Elementary are both highly rated with relatively low student/teacher ratios. The main high school that serves the community is South High School, which doesn’t fare as well, scoring a 3/10 GreatSchools Rating. Many families in the community with high school age students will opt out and choose a neighboring school or go private.
Washington Park is one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods and features many early twentieth century brick homes, which have increased at a staggering pace in recent years since the crash. It’s worth noting that this area was one of the most insulated during the housing crisis, due in large part to it’s median household income being well over $100,000, and household net worth almost doubling Denver’s average at just shy of $900,000.
As of July 2015, the average listing price of a Washington Park home was just over $1 million. But don’t worry if you’re not in that price range, as listings for condos and smaller 1 bedrooms can be as low as $200,000, although many will be $400,000 and up as you get closer to the park.
This historic Gold Rush city dates back to 1859, when gold seekers, merchants and farmers settled the area. Littleton sits on the southwest side of town with a population of just over 42,000.
Littleton offers suburb homes from $200,000 all the way up to farming/ranch properties in the millions. Many suburbs of Littleton will be slightly more affordable then Centennial or Highlands Ranch, but you can easily find neighborhoods of the same quality. Solid and safe communities to raise kids in.
What To Do?
The City of Littleton has over 1,477 acres of parks and open space, and is a part of the well-known South Suburban Parks and Recreation system. SSPR creates and maintains public parks, trails and recreation centers that service the south suburbs of Littleton, Englewood, Centennial and Lone Tree. They offer discounted rates for in-district residents on everything from monthly memberships to yoga classes to child care.
Historic Downtown Littleton is going through a small revival. Once an outdated, forgotten part of the city, Downtown Littleton is now becoming known as a quaint, charming area with a mix of unique, independently owned businesses and newer, hip restaurants and shops.
Aspen Grove Shopping District is new shopping center located off of Sante Fe and Mineral that features restaurants and popular stores such as Apple and Banana Republic. The shopping center also features the Alamo Drafthouse, which is an eat-dinner-while-you-watch-a-movie theatre that supports local breweries and has a zero tolerance talking and texting policy that movie purist are sure to love! Aspen Grove is connected with Denver’s RTD Light rail system and is currently the southern most stop for the C and D line trains.
Littleton Public School District’s slogan reads “Big enough to serve you, small enough to know you”, which sums it up nicely. LPS has ranked #1 overall in student academic achievement in the Denver Metro Area in Reading, Writing and Math for 5 years in a row, 2010-2014.
Centennial is Colorado’s newest official city, incorporated in 2001. It was also the largest incorporation in US history, with the population of Centennial topping 100,000. The City of Centennial has a very unique boundary (as seen below) that runs adjacent to Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Littleton, Greenwood Village, Parker, and Aurora. So there any many parts of south Denver that are “Centennial”.
Depending on which part of Centennial you’re looking at, it can have some of the best access to main roads, top schools, shopping and business districts. The City has a unique form of government, called the council-manager form, which limits the city’s tax levying and collection powers. Centennial was incorporated on a promise to keep city taxes at 1%
Centennial offers a diverse selection of neighborhoods, vibes and price ranges. You can find older, mature neighborhoods close to I-25 or C-470 to newer subdivisions out near E-470 and Southlands Mall.
Prices range from as low as $100,000 for condos in various parts, up to $900,000 in established neighborhoods. The average sale price of $361,160 is what draws many to Centennial, as it is accessible to most with great schools and recreation.
Cherry Creek School District and the Littleton Public Schools are two of the highest achieving districts in the state, boasting nationally ranked Cherry Creek High School – the largest high school in the state.
Both school districts have well above state averages in graduation rates and SAT/ACT test scores, and both have received numerous awards for academic achievement and excellence.
The Streets at SouthGlenn is one of south Denver’s newest shopping and entertainment destinations. They brand themselves as an urban lifestyle community that offers shopping, dining, apartment living and work spaces. Having frequented this area often, I must say there is a nice offering of cafe’s & bistros, a Whole Foods, unique shops, big retailers (like H&M & Macy’s), and a not-too-busy movie theatre where you can have your own padded recliners!
The quiet town of Parker, CO sits just 20 miles southeast of Denver and is it’s own municipality and a part of Douglas County. Parker is easily accessible from I-25 and E-470, and is known as a commuter town of about 50,000, with many residents working out of the Denver Tech Center or Downtown.
One of Parker’s highlights is it’s old school, Western-style downtown area that features book shops, restaurants and sits right next to a kid’s splash park.
The city of Parker is served by the Douglas County School District, which is generally known as one of the top school districts to both attend and work at in the country.
Parker is a growing community that currently has 3 highly rated high schools – Ponderosa, Chaparral, and it’s newest secondary school, Legend High School.
With a median home value of $342,000 (as of July, 2015), Parker offers everything from newer family subdivisions to horse ranch properties, to luxury new builds like Pradera, Sierra Ridge and The Timbers.
There is no shortage of new communities popping up along the east and south side of Parker, stretching down to Castle Rock, which is a great city to live in it’s own right.
Arts & Culture
Parker recently opened the Parker Arts, Culture and Events (PACE) Center right on Parker’s historic Mainstreet. This venue features 536-seat Mainstage theater, an art gallery, dance studio, multi-use classrooms, a 3,000 square foot events room, and a very cool interactive outdoor musical playground called Harmony Park. The new center also hosts weddings, fundraisers, and other local community events.
Parker has an aggressive Master Plan to bring more arts, culture, history and science to the region that features more programs and educational opportunities, as well as public events, partnerships and more.
More Parker Facts
- Median household income is just under $100,000
- The average commute time for a Parker resident is 26 minutes
- Founded in 1864, incorporated in 1981
Honorable Mention: Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Castle Rock, Golden, Boulder, Niwot, Lafayette, Longmont
These are all wonderful communities that will be suitable for many buyers as well. I wanted to make this list thorough enough to really give a feel for the most popular suburbs and areas that I see families moving to. I will be putting out many more of these lists, but in the meantime feel free to shoot me a text or email and we can see what fits your needs!