When looking for the best place to raise a family, we are lucky to have so many options in Virginia. Many of our cities and towns have been nationally ranked for qualities like low cost of living, easy access to amenities and great schools.
Please note that, for this study, we are only using towns or small cities with populations under 100,000. We think you might be pleasantly surprised at some of the top contenders!
1. Big Stone Gap, Wise County
With fewer than 6,000 residents, Big Stone Gap is a small town with a big name. Made famous by Adriana Trigiani's book series and the movie "Big Stone Gap," the town has enjoyed a bit of the limelight, but has not lost its charm or character along the way. As an historical coal mining town, Big Stone Gap offers a rich Appalachian culture with many museums, historical sites and outdoor activities perfect for families.
2. Christiansburg, Montgomery County
With around 21,000 residents, Christiansburg offers small town charm with no shortage of amenities when it comes to shopping, entertainment and parks. Surrounded by Southwest Virginia's mountains and full of rich history, the town provides both outdoor activities and indoor culture. And with housing costs much lower than neighboring Blacksburg, it offers a perfect residential option for many professors, students and professionals with young families.
3. Smithfield, Isle of Wight
No stranger to praise, Smithfield has long been known for its incredible ham. But Smithfield also offers good schools, a vibrant community and safe streets to boot. As an added bonus, the Virginia Review called it "without a doubt, one of the prettiest towns in Virginia." Beauty, history, culture and safety combine to make this town an all-around winner for families.
Although technically an independent city, Lexington serves as the county seat of Rockbridge County. Lexington is home to not one, but two, prestigious colleges: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. And yet, with just over 7,000 residents, the city maintains a small town feel. Known for its excellent schools, close-knit community, rich historical significance and ample amenities, including a vibrant arts and culture scene, Lexington is a clear choice for families of any age and size.
Like Lexington, Charlottesville is an independent city. With a population of close to 44,000, Charlottesville has received national recognition multiple times as one of the nation’s best places to live and its benefits are especially significant when it comes to raising a family. Home to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, Charlottesville offers great schools, a wide variety of amenities, history to spare and beautiful parks throughout.
6. Culpeper, Culpeper County
With a population just under 17,000, this National Trust Great American Main Street community features a quaint downtown with plenty of shopping, arts and history. Add to this good schools, low unemployment and some of the state’s most beautiful countryside and Culpeper provides an ideal setting for raising a family.
This small city in the northwestern part of the state is the county seat of Frederick County, but with around 26,000 residents, serves as an independent entity. Originally a frontier town, Winchester was settled as early as 1729 and later had roles in the French-Indian War, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Today, Winchester makes a beautiful setting for families with great schools, housing and amenities. Plus, with plenty of outdoor activities and events like the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, family-friendly activities abound, indoors and out.
8. Front Royal, Warren County
Front Royal may have fewer than 15,000 residents, but it does not lack for anything. Set in the northwestern part of the Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal offers rich Native American, European and early American histories, ensuring no shortage of learning opportunities for school age kids. And with plenty of convenient amenities, a close community and activities for kids of all ages, Front Royal serves as a perfect place for families.
9. Blacksburg, Montgomery County
As a direct next-door-neighbor to Christiansburg (#2 on our list), it’s not a surprise to see Blacksburg ranking in the Top 10. Home to Virginia Tech, Blacksburg benefits from all that a large university brings in terms of culture, education and arts. But with abundant charm in its own rights, Blacksburg provides a perfect family setting with plenty of housing, employment, parks, youth programs and amenities.
Again, Southwest Virginia makes a strong showing, closing out the top 10 with the small city of Radford. Radford is home to just over 16,000 residents, and like many of our other towns and small cities, is home to a university – Radford University, to be exact. With a charming downtown, good schools and a thriving community, Radford sets the stage for high quality family life. Featuring parks, museums and more than enough outdoor adventure, staying busy is never a problem.
Like many Shenandoah Valley cities and towns, Waynesboro's history dates to pre-Revolutionary War. Today, Waynesboro, a small city of around 21,000, features a rich cultural history with museums, community events and plenty of family-friendly activities and amenities. In addition to its well-respected public schools, Waynesboro is also home to Fishburne Military School, an all-male military boarding school. Surrounded by mountains and rolling hills, Waynesboro makes for a beautiful place to grow up.
If the fact that Bristol is considered the "Birthplace of County Music" isn’t enough reason to move your family there, then maybe the fact that it’s a "twin" city with Bristol, TN, sharing both a name and main street, will convince you. With close to 18,000 residents, Bristol features a colorful community full of family-friendly activities, events and amenities. With music, theaters, art, specialty shops and dining establishment in every genre, there’s always something for the whole family in this happening little city.
Galax is an independent city between Carroll and Grayson Counties. Called the "Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains," Galax has long been a haven for old time music lovers. Since 1935, this small city of 7,000 has hosted the Old Fiddler's Convention, one of the most prestigious competitions for traditional music in the country. With its rich Appalachian culture and history, not to mention the beauty of the mountains surrounding it, Galax offers a simple, yet beautiful, way of life for families. An historic downtown combines traditional charm with modern amenities to make Galax a simply wonderful place to live.
14. Buena Vista
Also known as one of the state’s safest places to live, Buena Vista offers immeasurable natural beauty. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Maury River, this small city of less than 7,000 provides strong schools, bustling commerce and historic landmarks, making it a place where families can thrive.
15. Richlands, Tazewell County
Finishing off our list with another strong showing in Southwest Virginia, Richlands proves that you don’t have to be big to make an impact. Richlands is a peaceful town of nearly 6,000 in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Built on a history of agriculture, iron and coal, Richlands is a thriving community with safe streets, a close community, historical sites and some of the state's most beautiful countryside. If that’s doesn’t sound like a great place to raise kids, I don’t know what does.
Were you surprised by any of the results? If nothing else, this definitely confirms what we’ve known all along – Virginia has some of the loveliest small towns and cities in the nation. If you would like to contribute to the list or let us know about where you grew up in Virginia, we would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to post in the comments below!