Overland Park, Kan.: Just 12 miles outside of Kansas City, Mo., is the lovely community of Overland Park, Kan. This family-friendly suburb in America's heartland has a four-season climate and is opening a 12-field, artificially turfed, fully lit soccer complex in the late summer. "Soccer is a big sport in this community," says Mayor Carl Gerlach. Meanwhile, at the Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead, kids can visit nearly 200 farm animals, toss a bobber into a fishing pond, or take a ride in a horse-drawn wagon. The 17-mile-long Indian Creek Trail makes for a great bike ride. At the same time, sports fans are only a short car ride away from a Kansas City Chiefs football game or a Kansas City Royals baseball game. In addition, "we have three different school districts in Overland Park," Gerlach says. "All three have been nationally ranked and won awards."
Boston: With an exciting history and a boatload of activities, Boston is a great option for parents looking to raise children in a big city. Kids will marvel at the African penguins in the New England Aquarium, gawk at the humpback whales on a whale-watching tour, and erupt as the Red Sox take the field at beautiful Fenway Park. At the same time, Boston is one of the safest large cities in the country.
Denver: Whether they prefer snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains, biking through America's largest city park system, or heading over to Invesco Field at Mile High for a Broncos football game, Denver is a wonderful place to be a kid. Also among the country's safest big cities, Denver has 300 days of annual sunshine, eight different professional sports franchises, and countless opportunities for fishing, white-water rafting, and horseback riding.
Rochester, Minn.: With about 100,000 residents, the safe, friendly city of Rochester, Minn., has enough activities to tire out even the most energetic youngsters: 85 miles of trails for in-line skating, 3,200 acres of public parks for touch football, and 56 different playgrounds. "It's a huge sports town," says Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau. Fortunately, the area's big sport—hockey—is well-suited for Rochester's chilly winters. "We [also] have two hockey complexes, one with four rinks under one roof and the other with two," Jones says. "We have the National Volleyball Center located here, and it's always hopping with volleyball tournaments and trainings."
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: It would be tough to find a safer community than Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the crime index is about a fifth of the national average. And with a solid school system, plenty of fun activities, and affordable housing costs, this eastern Iowa city can keep your kids happy without emptying your wallet. Tim Boyle, the executive director of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the city's manageable size—it has just 123,000 residents—allows its young people to get involved in a variety of different activities. "The thing that I like about Cedar Rapids is you could end up with a junior or senior in high school who is an offensive tackle on the football team and has the lead in the spring musical," Boyle says. In addition to a strong music program in its public schools, the area has more than 50 public tennis courts, more than 75 parks, 23 sand volleyball courts, and even a BMX dirt track. During the winters, which can get extremely cold, children can remain active on three indoor soccer fields and five ice-skating rinks.
Plano, Texas: With 7,000 faculty and staff members serving 55,000 students in this Texas community, the Plano Independent School District has achieved national recognition for its strength. The Department of Education has handed 24 of its schools National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence awards, and 99 of its seniors were named semifinalists in the 2008 National Merit Scholarship Program. "We have a wonderful park system here in our community that has always been very much focused on youth sports, whether it is soccer or baseball or basketball," says Mayor Phil Dyer. Meanwhile, the community's less costly lifestyle—median home prices are just $213,900—means there should be enough cash left in the budget for the 50-minute trip to Arlington, Texas, for a Dallas Cowboys game.