Ellen Zagory is typical of many Davis residents. She attended the University of California at Davis, moved to another area, then moved back.

So did Jeff and Jenny McCormick. He attended UC Davis as an undergraduate; she spent four years in medical school. They moved to Boston, then returned.

"We always knew we wanted to come back," said Jenny McCormick, an assistant professor in the university's department of emergency medicine.

David Taormino, co-owner of Coldwell Banker Doug Arnold Real Estate, and his wife, Mary, also were students at the university.

"When it came time to move on, we said, 'Where else do we want to move to?' " Taormino said.

Nowhere else, they decided. They stayed in Davis.

Zagory and her husband, Devon, moved to Argentina. When they returned to the United States, they lived with friends in Davis while hunting for work, and both found jobs at the university. They now live two blocks from the campus.

"People ask if we ever changed our phone number and address, and we answer, 'not in 30 years,' " Zagory said.

She is director of horticulture at the UC Davis Arboretum and seems to enjoy talking about Davis as much as talking about plants, insects and pollination.

Many people who grew up in Davis and went away to school or to work elsewhere also are returning.

"In the last three to four years, I've noticed that trend is growing," said Taormino, who has been in the real estate business since 1969. "People in their late 30s or 40s are moving back. They have come to the same conclusion that my wife and I did years ago."

Taormino's clients reveal what attracts them to Davis.

"What our buyers are telling us is that they like the schools, the parks, the ambience of the city and the university," he said. "But, consistently, the highest ranking is schools."

Many people are willing to pay more to live in Davis because of the schools, which are within Davis Joint Union School District.

"The schools are highly rated in state and regional scoring," Taormino said. "Even if people disagree on funding, they agree on funds to support schools."

Jenny McCormick dubs the schools "fantastic." The McCormicks have four children, ages 1 through 6.

"There are tons of programs for kids -- ballet, language, art, drama, any sport, moms' groups and dads' groups," McCormick said. "Davis is an educated slice of America, and people are more driven to get their kids into activities."

Programs at the university are well-attended by residents and visitors from throughout the region. Two prime attractions on campus are the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which features live concerts, dance, theater and speakers, and the UC Arboretum, which has more than 22,000 varieties of trees, shrubs and plants. Visitors can tour the public garden and museum year-round.

City attractions include the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, which opened in 2010 with a collection of bicycles, trophies, medals and other memorabilia.

"The farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays draws thousands of people," Taormino said. "It's like a cultural event."

Taormino said he's spent 26 years attending Saturday soccer and other games in Davis with his family.

"The children's sports programs are unbelievable," he said. "You can't drive by a park on Saturday and not see some activity."

Bicycles are a favored mode of transportation around Davis.

"Kids ride everywhere," Taormino said. "And Davis is safe. People can put their kids on bikes and send them to the parks and school."

People also can feel safe walking, Zagory said. "Projects are under way on Second Street to make it more walkable," said Mike Webb, a principal planner with the city of Davis.

Sidewalk curb extensions at intersections have been designed to slow traffic and help make pedestrians more visible to motorists.

The walkable downtown is "really hopping," Taormino said, because of the many restaurants. Among popular spots is the locally owned coffee shop Mishka's Cafe, which moved a couple of blocks down Second Street, next door to the Varsity Theatre. New to the downtown area is de Vere's Irish Pub and Restaurant, which will open on E Street, Webb said.

"There's definitely a lot going on in Davis right now," he said. "There's good business activity downtown and outside of downtown, some good infill projects that are providing a little variety in a smart, controlled way -- all are great things you expect in Davis."

On the horizon is Cannery Park, a mixed-use development at E Street and East Covell Boulevard, the site of a former Hunt Wesson tomato cannery, which closed in 1999. The proposed 100-acre development will have 610 units of low- and medium-density housing, a business park, retail shops, restaurants and a community park. A few housing developments have been approved, and at least four are under construction, Webb said.

Willowbank Park by Brix and Mortar Partners LLC is a 29-unit subdivision of single-family detached homes and attached townhouses at Montgomery Street and Mace Boulevard. Willowbank 10 by Warmington Homes is a community of 31 single-family homes, with eight housing units for low-income residents.

Regis Homes' Verona offers 83 units in a mix of attached and detached single-family homes. Central Park West by Sherman Homes is a small infill project on B Street across from Central Park, with seven townhouses with alley access and an auto court. Two homes on the property were moved to city-owned lots on J Street and will be used for low- income housing, Webb said.

Sacramento-Yolo Mutual Housing's green development, New Harmony, will offer one- to three-bedroom apartments in south Davis. Sixty-nine units with energy-efficient appliances and green building materials are under construction.

Resale homes in Davis are more expensive than those in many other communities in the Sacramento region. That's because buyers are willing to purchase premium homes to live in Davis, Taormino said.

"Usually there are good reasons for choosing an area," he said. "People who want to live in south Davis probably commute to Sacramento or to the Bay Area."

The southern part of Davis is close to Interstate 80.

"Davis, because of the community that it is, has held property values very well compared to other communities," Webb said.

Single-family resale homes in Davis range from $350,000 to $1.2 million, with $477,000 the average, Taormino said.

In 2010 the average was $485,000. During the real estate boom, the average was $608,000, Taormino said.

In December 2005, prices decreased 20.5 percent in Davis, compared with about 55 percent in other parts of the Sacramento region.

"Prices dropped less in Davis than in other areas for two good reasons," Taormino said. "Davis is a slow-growth community without a lot of subdivision development."

The second reason, he said, is because buyers made larger down payments -- typically, 20 percent to 25 percent -- and flawed mortgage loans weren't as common as in other areas.

"We didn't have outrageous loans being granted, and that explains why prices remained pretty stable," Taormino said. "We didn't have a lot of speculative buying. Flipping was unheard of here."

When it was founded in 1868, Davis was called Davisville, a name the post office shortened in 1907. The city incorporated in 1917.

UC Davis began in 1908 as the University Farm School, an agricultural extension of the University of California, and was established by UC regents as a full-fledged campus in 1959. With 5,300 acres, it's the largest campus in the UC system.

Zagory enjoys the small-town atmosphere of the community.

"What I like best about Davis is that we know all our neighbors," she said. "But I have to be careful going downtown. I have to brush my hair."

But that's a minor inconvenience in exchange for the pleasure of living in a city she appreciates and doesn't intend to leave.

"Some people retire and move away, but why do that?" she said. "It's a good place to retire."

Zagory also likes the university setting. "For me, it's the intellectual stimulation," she said. "Some people don't like it, but I work at the university, and I'm part of that culture."