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The top cities to live and learn in the West 2011

What are most family-friendly towns in the Western states? From beautiful coastal hamlets to brainy college enclaves, we found the 10 best cities for housing and public schools.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Mercer Island, WA

Educational quality score: 99.12
Median home value: $708,740
Population: 24,351

"Play hard, work hard" seems to be the motto on this 10-square mile speck floating in Lake Washington near Seattle. Ka-Boom!, a nonprofit organization that supports and fosters play, awarded Mercer Island "Playful City USA" for three straight years, praising its 50 miles of trails and 400 acres of parks and open space. Mercer Island High School (MIHS) has one of the top lacrosse teams in the nation, plus fearsome squads in tennis, swimming, water polo, and drill team. The marching band performed in London's 2011 New Year's Parade, and 25 percent of MIHS's students are making noise in the music program.

Studying still gets done though, with impressive results. MIHS is a Blue Ribbon School where 95 percent graduate, and the SAT average is an eye-popping 635 Math, 613 Verbal. At Islander Middle School, the extra-curriculars include chess, knitting, gaming, and robotics, and all three elementary schools have received special recognition by the state. Even "reluctant learners" and "high risk" youth get the best here - the Crest Learning Center offers an 11-months per year program, with integrated courses and outdoor activities like rock-climbing, horticulture, and ultimate Frisbee.

Learn more about schools in Mercer Island, WA.

Photo credit: papalars

Comments from readers

"How do I access the special ed information "
"My son is special ed - I don't know how to access material on this subject or find best special ed programs/schools in california. Please help."
"Howcome Fremont, CA is not on the list ? The Mission Hills neighborhood in Fremont has the 36th best schools in Entire US. Palo Alto schools are way behind Mission San Jose High School. Even in terms of lifestyle it is way better than Palo Alto with most views to the hills and bay."