It is so wonderful. The campground is just above the driftwood beach offering walks in solitude with the breaking waves in the background.
Second time I've been here. Five years ago, I thought it was pretty bare-bones but just what I wanted: first-come, first-serve tent spot within 3 hours of San Francisco and within a walk of the ocean. No city lights to speak of = incredible stargazing. Oceanside = fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Did I mention first-come, first-serve? Nearly all the other campgrounds on the CA coast require a reservation 6 months in advance for weekends, with weekday availability not much better. This small campground had a number of empty spots available at 8pm on a Saturday.
This year, it was nearly the same story. Park funding cut back, so no host = no firewood (KOA up the road sells bundles for $8). And it's only open on weekends until further notice. The vault toilets had plenty of TP, and the sites were well maintained so clearly someone is looking after the place. In fact, the overgrown grass and coastal scrub that previously lent some extra privacy to sites was cut down, a bit of a bummer. Go for the spots on the northern loop. The trees there offer some wind protection and the views over the valley toward Alder Creek are worthwhile. I wanted to set up my hammock, but tree-less sites closer to the road render that a non-option. For site variety, spaciousness, privacy, and amenities, I'd say Manchester is more like 2-2.5 stars. But last-minute availability bumps it up to 3.
There is still a pasture full of cows across the street and the Pt. Arena lighthouse just beyond to greet you in the morning, and the ocean still crashes within earshot. Salt Point and Gualala campgrounds are warmer and woodsier. Mackerricher and Russian Gulch offer much more to do. But in a pinch, Manchester will continue to be my impromptu coastal road trip stopover.