Garcia River starts at an elevation of 856 feet (261 m) and flows generally northwest for 44 miles (71 km), draining a watershed of 92,160 acres (37,296 ha), and enters the Pacific Ocean north of Point Arena Lighthouse at Manchester State Park, about 34 miles (55 km) south of Fort Bragg and 4 miles (6.4 km) northwest of the community of Point Arena, California. The river is named for Rafael Garcia who in 1844 received permission from Governor Manuel Micheltorena to select up to 9 leagues (43 km) of land along the coast for a ranch. But the transition of power to Governor Pio Pico in 1845 and the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 stalled the application for title and the land grant was never made. In 1859, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Garcia’s claim was not valid and the land went into the public domain. In 1955, Manchester State Park was established with 5,272 acres (2,134 ha) of protected beachfront that features sand dunes, flat grasslands, and 5 miles (8 km) of sand beaches. The park is named after the community of Manchester, which in turn was named after Manchester, England. In 1956, the Point Arena Cable Station was built in Manchester by AT&T Corporation. The cable station serves as the eastern terminus of several undersea cables including connections to Japan, Hawaii, and Canada.
The Garcia River estuary was historically called P’da Hau by the Pomo Indians who inhabited a village there. The name ‘pomo’ is derived from a conflation of words meaning ‘those who live at red earth hole’. The name may have referred to local deposits of a red mineral such as hematite used for red beads, or to the reddish earth and clay in the area. The Pomo were not socially or politically linked as one large unified tribe. Instead, they lived in small groups or bands, linked by geography, lineage, and marriage. Traditionally they relied upon fishing, hunting, and gathering for their food. The Pomo culture is famed for ceremonial dances and a tradition of intricate basket weaving. A particularly valued basket type incorporates bird feathers into the basket’s weave. Some of their most culturally important dances are ‘Ghost Dance‘ and ‘Far South’. During a Ghost Dance ceremony, they believed that the dead were recognized, and a ‘Far South’ dance was celebrated as the rite of passage for children to the tribe. In 1543, the Spanish explorer Bartolomé Ferrer named the point at the mouth of the Garcia River ‘Cabo de Fortunas’ (cape of fortunes). In 1775, the cape was renamed ‘Punta Delgado’ (narrow point) by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. In 1889, the small harbor town south of the point established a port office with the name ‘Point Arena’, meaning ‘sand point’.
The Garcia River provides the water supply for agriculture and the community of Point Arena. Logging in the river watershed began in the 19th century with the discovery of massive redwood forests, but since World War II, erosion caused by poor logging practices, cattle grazing, and gravel mining has done considerable damage to fish habitat. About 80 percent of the land in the watershed is privately owned. Lost Coast Forestlands is the largest landowner in the area, followed by Louisiana Pacific, and Mailliard Ranch. Public access to the river and the rest of the watershed is limited due to this private ownership. In 2021, San Francisco socialite and civic leader Charlotte Mailliard Shultz and her family agreed to protect the old-growth redwoods on the Mailliard Ranch. Along with several adjacent properties, the network of preserves in the region now spans 82,000 acres (33,184 ha), including the nearly 15,000 acres (6,070 ha) of the Mailliard Ranch, the Mailliard Redwoods State Natural Reserve that was donated by the family in 1954 for inclusion in the state parks system, and 24,000 acres (9,712 ha) of the Garcia River Forest managed by The Conservation Fund for sustainable timber production and carbon sequestration. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Garcia River and Manchester Beach here: