11/20/2012 10:05 am ET Updated Jan 20, 2013

They Did Not Pave Paradise... and We're So Thankful!

Day-after-Thanksgiving Excursions We're Grateful For

This Thanksgiving as we sit back in our chairs and undo the button on our waistbands post-dinner, we're giving thanks that we can work off this meal exploring some unspoiled, classically Californian landscapes that might not be here today if it weren't for the Conservancy, its partners and supporters.

Specifically, we're thankful for three remarkable locations that were destined for the bulldozer but were saved from a future under asphalt: the Marin Headlands, the Ramona Grasslands and the Santa Rosa Plateau. Plans were under way to pave these paradises, but instead we protected these exquisite sites for you and generations to enjoy.

To make this success even sweeter, these amazing places are located close to where many Californians live, providing a desperately needed respite from urban pressures, a chance to experience the best nature offers and some sorely needed habitat for wildlife.

Marin Headlands
The headlands were destined to be a 2,000-acre development with 50 apartment towers, vast tracts of single-family homes and a mile-long shopping center. Instead it's a much beloved treasure in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, home to more endangered species than any other national park in the continental U.S.

  • For more a robust adventure, run the Coastal Trail, climbing through the majestic hills and chaparral bordering windswept cliffs overlooking the Pacific.
  • Or bring the whole family out on Sunday, November 25, and help restore native habitat in incredibly scenic locales. All ages and skill levels welcome.

Santa Rosa Plateau
In 1984, development in Riverside County was booming, with plans in the works for this spectacular site. The Conservancy protected this important habitat, with its oaks, grasses and rare vernal pools (only about two percent of the original pools are left in the state), by purchasing 3,100 acres from a housing development company. Soon, plans appeared for 4,000 tract houses next to the new preserve, and again the Conservancy and its partners acted to save this critically needed area, creating a 9,000-acre reserve that welcomes more than 60,000 visitors annually, including 7,000 to 8,000 school kids.

  • Take a stroller friendly hike through the amazing oak woodlands or the rare prairie grasslands. In fact, there are six distinct plant communities you can check out in one family visit. Don't miss the newly rebuilt boardwalk over the vernal pools. When the rains arrive, the pools can be hotbeds of small-scale action for a multitude of wildlife, including the fairy shrimp, found nowhere else on Earth.

Ramona Grasslands Preserve
Despite the fact that California has lost a staggering 90 percent of its native grasslands, plans were well under way to carve up more than 1,000 acres of this majestic prairie into residential subdivisions. But the Conservancy and its partners conserved this classically Mediterranean valley, home to a wildly diverse group of animals including bobcats, golden eagles and the endangered giant kangaroo rat. The preserve also encompasses the Santa Maria Creek, a tributary of the San Dieguito River, which feeds Lake Hodges, an important drinking water source for the city of San Diego.

  • Run the four-mile loop trail that starts at the Highland Valley Road parking area. Explore oak woodlands, rocky outcrops, diverse shrublands and, of course, grasslands. Keep your eyes peeled for the woolly blue curls, one of our favorite native plants.
  • For something less strenuous for the little ones, picnic at one of the shaded tables next to the pond, and watch for hawks and other large raptors that winter at the grasslands. Try the one-mile Meadow Loop, and get the feel of the wide open spaces of early California.

Which California landscape are you most thankful for?