Camping California's Wild Coast

Manchester State Beach
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Manchester State Beach Campground

Manchester State Beach
P.O. Box 440
Mendocino, CA 95460

Information: (707) 937-5804; reserve through DESTINET at (800) 444-7275
Open: All year
Individual sites: 46 sites for tents or RVs, 10 environmental sites in the dunes (1-mile level walk from parking lot)
Each site has: Picnic table, fireplace
Registration: By entrance
Facilities: Piped water, vault toilets
Parking: At individual site
Fee: $12
Elevation: Sea level
Pets—Allowed on leash ($1 fee)
Fires—In fireplace
Vehicles—RVs up to 30 feet, trailers up to 22 feet
Other—Reservations on holidays and good weather weekends recommended


How beautiful! And, how the wind does blow! No matter what time of year, this campground is ski-jacket country. And summer can be the worst. The winds blow so hard out of the north that you want to tie your tent to the car (seriously, bring extra rope to strategically tie your tent to nearby coyote brush and ceanothus). But, when it's sunny, especially in winter or fall, Manchester Beach can melt your heart. Nowhere is the coastline so beautiful. Nowhere does the lighthouse stand so starkly against the sea and sky. And, probably, nowhere are the locals as friendly as they are here.

Manchester (with a good grocery store) is a hop, skip, and a jump from the campground. Nearby Point Arena (a short drive) even has a community-owned, first-run movie theater and playhouse. This country looks like the west coast of Wales, and the people feel like the Welsh—courteous, reserved, with a twinkle in their eye, and all balled up in wool sweaters against the weather.

The campground sites are nicely separated and set into the gorse for some privacy from the the chest down. Then there's the beach. Miles and miles of sandy beach with grassy dunes and the Pacific running off into the sky. Think ruddy. With the wind off the water, your face goes quickly red, and soon you look like a native.

Take the Alder Creek Trail from the campground. Round-trip is about 4 miles, and the loop should take you around two hours. The trail starts by Park Headquarters and goes past Lake Davis to the beach and on north to Alder Creek, where there are birds and birds (bring binoculars) around the lagoon. Look for the whistling swan. Unlike the mute swan, the whistlers hold their neck straight and bill level, and sometimes show a bright yellow spot on their black bill.

The immature swan is a light gray-brown. Since the whistler is our most common swan, the chances that the swans you see in the lagoon are whistlers are pretty good. The"whistle" of the whistling swan comes from that ethereal sound the swans make when they are flying to and from the Arctic, where they nest. These swans have a 7-foot wingspan and weigh up to 20 pounds—and they need all of it for the journey. They come all that way to hang out in the "mild" Manchester Beach weather for the winter. In addition to swans, look for pelicans, godwits, killdeer, and surf scoters (a variety of sea duck).

Pause at Alder Creek and think about the San Andreas fault. This is where the fault comes ashore and heads down through Southern California. This area took a huge hit in the 1906 earthquake. Much of Point Arena was destroyed; fences were moved six feet—rock-and-roll time for the locals. Remember, this is why Native Americans in this region lived in temporary shelters not unlike a Kelty tent—so they could survive the big ones.

Another good hike is out to the beach and south to the mouth of the Garcia. The Manchester State Beach is a catch basin for sea debris, which accounts for the tremendous amount of driftwood found here. In fact, the beach often looks like a graveyard for driftwood. This is all good for building shelters from the howling north wind. Pass Brush Creek and pretty soon you come to a big lagoon and the Garcia River. Look for much the same birds as you saw up at Alder Creek. However, the Garcia is steelhead country. You want to be here at high tide in January or February—there's a spot called Miner Hole not far from the parking area on Miner Hole Road. Most of the fishermen I've seen here wear waders and work their way downstream. Look for where the locals are fishing and follow their lead.

It's not that Manchester Beach is so cold—the swans think it's tropical—but we humanoids don't have the down feathers. We need good warm clothes because a windchill factor can make 50° feel like freezing. Bring gloves—warm hands make you feel warm. Bring a sweatshirt with a hood for hanging around and sleeping in—most of your heat escapes from your head. Bring earplugs for sleeping—the flapping of the tent might keep you awake.

To get there from Point Arena, drive 2 miles north on Highway 1 past Manchester and Home Sweet Home Ranch to Kinney Road. Turn left, and drive to the campground.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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