Sea lions are a staple of any dream scenario on a California beach, probably paired with sunshine, nice waves and good company. And in those same fantasies, the sea lions are often all balancing a ball on their noses.

What most people don’t know, however, is that this circus trick is one of the few things that mark a sea lion’s vast intelligence. The cute creatures are able to understand custom-made sign language and can recognize relationships between actions and peers better than most of the animal kingdom.

If you’re curious to see these brilliant California sea lions in action, it’s not too hard. The pinnipeds can be found throughout the Pacific coast, with a range spanning from southeast Alaska to central Mexico, and are easily discernable from seals and even between genders of sea lion. Sea lions are much noisier and friendlier than their cousin seals, and the males are easy to spot with their largest chests and big necks.

Want to make the search for California sea lions even easier? Check out this list of the top five parks in The Golden State to see the majestic beasts:

  1. Año Nuevo State Reserve – South of San Francisco, nature lovers can find one of the biggest gathering points for sea lions and elephant seals in California. The area is secluded and wild, making it perfect for sea lions to mate, rest and give birth, and perfect for you to see them in nature.
  2. Point Lobos State Reserve – Want to see the sea lions relaxing as peaceful as can be? This park, near Carmel, Calif., provides a protective barrier of rocks that not only protects the young pups, but also allows for the adults to take a load off nearly year-round.
  3. Sonoma Coast State Park – Seventeen miles of sandy beaches, protected coves and great surf would normally bring in enough visitors, so the sea lions are just the cherry on top. Make sure to check out Goat Rock Beach in the park, where the pups and adults can often be found frolicking.
  4. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – While the park is often known for its hiking, towering redwoods and waterfalls, the Big Sur coastline is full of marine wildlife. Sea otters, seals, whales, sea lions and many more can be found swimming along the shore throughout the year.
  5. Garrapata State Park – Soberanes Point remains the top attraction at the park, but Garrapata beach is nothing to scoff at. The shoreline may only be two miles long, but that small space is packed with sea lions, otters and seals.

If you get to see the sea lions, just remember one thing: Don’t get too close! Sea lions are very territorial and may not be so friendly if you intrude on their space. Feeding or trying to touch them are not smart ideas, so enjoy their majesty from afar.