Can you adjust your thinking about what constitutes a day at the beach? Can you set aside those visions of bikini-clad, bubble-gum rockers and suntanned surfer dudes?

If so, you can appreciate the beauty of the Oregon coast. This is a wild beauty of towering deep-green trees, riotous purple, red and pink rhododendrons and wind- and wave-swept shorelines of rock and driftwood.Imagine dunes taller than a building and stretching as far as you can see, even when you have climbed to the top of the tallest one you can find.

The weather isn't always bright summer postcard blue here. It can be rainy and windy and too cold to put your toes in the water, even in summer.

The sign at our resort set the tone for us beachcombers: Beware, it told us, of riptides, undertows, rolling logs and high waves, particularly the affectionately named Sneaker Waves which throw logs great distances, killing and maiming a few hapless wanderers each year.

We stayed at a condominium resort in Florence, Driftwood Shores, just after the close of the annual Rhododendron Festival - or Rhoddy Days, as the locals call them.

The Sea Lion Caves, 12 miles north of Florence on the Pacific Coast Highway, is a vast cavern that allows you to visit these charming animals in their own living room deep in the earth. The wild Stellar sea lions swim into the cavern from openings on the Pacific.

We land animals descended some 300 feet by elevator to enter the cavern without disturbing the occupants. We stood quietly behind an iron grate and watched the sea lions as they played.

Visitors can climb to an overlook above the cave and watch sea lions at play in the Pacific or basking on rocks in the sun. From this vantage point we saw such a variety of strange sea birds that I had to buy an Audubon guide so that I could identify them.

Among the feathered visitors are the pigeon guillemot, Brandt's cormorants, and three types of gulls: the herring gull, the California gull and the Western gull.

If you visit the sea lion caves at the right time of year, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a passing whale.

The killer whale is the only known predator of the sea lion and has been spotted in the vicinity killing sea lions, although it generally hunts farther north.

The gray whale passes the caves as it makes it way north, often passing quite close to shore. Small groups of gray whales have been known to end their summer migration in the area and spend the summer offshore.

We didn't happen to spot one, but I talked to a number of locals and regular visitors who told whale-sighting stories.

One tale is that the whales are so smart that they remember the shoreline they pass and actually use a nearby lighthouse at Haceta Head as a navigational aide.

Haceta Head is another attraction worth exploring. It is reached on foot from Devil's Elbow State Park, just off the highway.

The climb is worth the view from the top of this promontory with its lighthouse.

The trail winds upward beside the Pacific, over black lava rocks, beneath deep green firs, briefly on a flat open stretch beside the preserved Victorian caretaker's home, then twisting upward again. Suddenly, the trail takes a final turn and you are standing beside the old lighthouse, built in 1894.

The lighthouse isn't open for visitors, but the exterior is so photogenic, we didn't mind.

Another way to enjoy Oregon's unusual seashore is on horseback. We rented horses at C and M Stables just north of Florence and rode for an hour on the beach in mid-afternoon.

The restaurants here offered excellent fare. A tiny cafe on Bay Street served up a $1.35 bowl of clam chowder that deserved culinary prizes.

The Oregon Coast may not be your ordinary day at the beach, but it offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.