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Manchester State Beach

Manchester Beach, Alder Creek Trails

To Alder Creek is 5 miles round trip

The elements that comprise a wild beach—wind, waves, and wood, seem just a little bit bigger than life at Manchester State Beach.

The Monterey cypress windbreaks on the bluffs and driftwood wind shelters visitors have constructed on the beach hint at the high winds in this area. So strong are the breezes that blow over this beach, the prudent hiker is advised to call ahead for a “wind report.”

If a prize was awarded to the state beach with the most impressive driftwood collection, Manchester might just be the one to win. Huge logs tossed up by the sea lie in jumbled piles at the foot of sand dunes. Like cannons defending a coastal fortification, other large logs aim seaward from the base of the bluffs.

The state beach extends five miles from just above the mouth of Garcia Creek to the mouth of Alder Creek. Steelhead spawn in Alder Creek, which offers resting and nesting habitat for wintering waterfowl.

Near Manchester’s south boundary is the landmark Pt. Arena Lighthouse. Docents lead tours of the lighthouse, first built in 1870, then rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. The tower still holds the original Fresnel Lens, which cast a beam visible to ships 20 miles out to sea.

Manchester’s beach is complemented by a sizeable upland area. Instead of the usual out-and-back-beach walk characteristic of most state or county beaches, Manchester offers the hiker a loop trail tour of dark sand, ponds, bluffs and dunes.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1 in the hamlet of Pt. Arena, drive north 7 miles to Kinney Road and the signed Manchester State Beach turnoff. Turn left and follow the signs to the lot at road’s end beyond the park’s campground.

The hike: Cross the low dunes to the beach and head north. Great logs lie in heaps at the base of the dunes. Beach-goers have fashioned some intriguing wind shelters from material tossed up by the restless sea.

A mile out, you’ll pass the outlet of a pond. Soon the low dunes bordering the beach give way to tall bluffs. Almost two miles along, you’ll reach the mouth of Alder Creek and a connector trail that leads up to paved Alder Creek Road. Walk the road about 150 yards to the gated trail taking off from the west side of the road. A half mile of hiking brings you to a condemned wreck of a beach house. A bit farther is Osprey, one of the park’s environmental campsites. The route passes more of these walk-in camps as it heads south across the dunes.

From the last camp, improvise a route oceanward toward the above-mentioned pond outlet and join the south-trending trail over the low bluffs. When the trail turns inland, head for the coast and walk a mile along the beach back to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at