You should know these publications feature only paid advertisers, so will exclude some business of interest.
Where to Go has many suggestions ranging from restaurants to shopping to activities. It is readily available free at many locations throughout the island.
Island Events is similar and though it duplicates much of what is in Where to Go, it also supplements that publication and is worth picking up. Free at rental agents and most shopping areas.
Fork and Fun is a restaurant guide and it contains the menus and prices of most of our restaurants. Its on line version, which has an interesting search feature, is here.
The local Telephone Book, believe it or not, is a great reference for visitors. In the center of the book a glossy color section includes maps, background information and ideas on what to do. The Hilton Head golf courses are described in detail and some interesting facts about Hilton Head and the wonders of nature are included.
Tideland Treasures, by Todd Ballantine, a respected local naturalist, is a must for nature lovers or the just curious. Available for purchase in bookstores and elsewhere.
Gullah Culture: 1670 to 1950 and A Short History of Hilton Head Island, are e books written by David B. McCoy and cost just $3.99 each at Amazon or Barnes and Noble on line.
Golfers Guide is the definitive publication for our golfers, and includes information about off-island golf courses as well. Free.
There are some things useful to know about restaurants. Island restaurants recruit college students as employees for the busy season. When the island gets busy, around Easter, the students are still in school, so service might be slow at busy restaurants. After schools close for the summer the students still need a week or so of training and experience before service gets smooth.
Some restaurants accept reservations and some don't. A reservation does not necessarily mean you will be seated at the appointed time when the restaurant is very busy. If you see a group of four or larger that arrived after you did seated before your group of two, you should know that a larger table became available before a "two top", and customers are seated on a first come first served basis for the size of the table needed.
The average wage for a server is $3.17 an hour. Servers depend on their tips to earn a living, and rents are high on Hilton Head - $800 a month is considered cheap. Please be generous to your server or bartender. As anywhere, tips start at 15% and go up from there depending on the level of service.
Of course, we have not been to every restaurant on Hilton Head, but here are our favorites. In order to be included we need to dine there three times and have consistently good food, service and value. Two negative experiences (everyone is entitled to one bad day) and they come off the list.
Stellini 's is arguably the best Italian (northern and southern) restaurant value on Hilton Head Island. Casual or dress up. Entrees $15 to $29. A bit hard to find on Pope Ave Exec. Park road near Seashore Vacations.
Old Fort Pub. In Hilton Head plantation. Wonderful waterfront views with majestic live oaks unsurpassed on Hilton Head. Some outside tables. Go during daylight hours to enjoy the view. Expensive but great food and service.
CQ's is in Sea Pines near Harbour Town. Was an artists loft, has interesting ambiance and very good food. Informal. Earned AAA four stars. Expensive.
Skull Creek Boathouse is right on the water, with great views. The food is reasonably priced and the staff very attentive. You can dine outdoors or in, and they have an outdoor waterfront bar that is a locals hangout.
Mi Tierra is a long standing institution on the island. Locations on the island and in Bluffton offer reasonably priced Mexican food and delicious Margaritas.
Salty Dog Cafe is both an outdoor bar and a restaurant. For dinner you can eat indoors in a casual atmosphere, order takeout to eat on the marina docks, or partake of their outdoor barbeque (seasonal). Lunch is served at the outdoor tables. It's also in Sea Pines at the South Beach Marina. Informal to very casual. Live music outdoors nightly (seasonal).
Kurama is one of three Japanese teppanyaki style restaurants (often incorrectly called hibachi restaurants). The table at which you are seated is also the cooking surface. Japanese chefs put on quite a show, which the kids love to watch. They also have a sushi bar. Good food, informal.
OKKO is a Japanese and Thai restaurant with teppanyaki as well as conventional tables. The have two nice bars plus a sushi bar. Upscale decor.
Truffles in the Sea Pines Center. The menu is a bit limited but service is usually prompt, it's a good value and it's kid friendly. We often have lunch here. Locals come in just to buy their bread and spread to go. Casual to informal. Entrees $10 to$20. There is another Truffles on the south end.
Big Bamboo is an interesting place for World War II buffs. It looks like a stage set for the musical "south Pacific". Stop by for at least a cocktail. Some live entertainment. In Coligny Plaza upstairs.
Charley's Crab is now the Chart House.
Redfish is on Palmetto Bay Road between Sea Pines Circle and the road to the post office. Very pleasant employees and good food. Huge wine selection - you can buy a bottle and take it to your table for a corkage fee ( still cheaper than ordering it off the menu). I personally rate their ribs at the very top end.
The Palmetto Bay Sunrise Café (Aka. Palmetto Café) is a great place for breakfast or lunch. If you are taking a boat out of Palmetto Bay Marina, arrive early and get some good food. Open 6 AM to 2PM (3 PM weekends), with breakfast served at all times, great burgers and a lot more. Full bar. Tables outside and in. They have won every "best of" award for many years.
The Sage Room opened at 13 Heritage Plaza, and is a first class restaurant. In addition to the usual tables, diners can sit at the bar overlooking the food preparation area, watch dinner being cooked and ask questions of the chefs (another bar provides seating for those who are not interested). It's a little hard to find - you need to drive all the way around the rear set of buildings to the back side (where Cheryl's Le Cabaret was). Price are at the high end.
The Smokehouse has award winning ribs (smoked, not fall-off-the-bone), chili, wings and barbeque in an indoor or outdoor setting that's very informal. They have won awards in every year since 1999.
Michael Anthony's offers Northern and Southern Italian food, a huge wine selection, and a Tiramisu that's out of this world.
Frankie Bones was voted the best new restaurant in Hilton Head by readers of Hilton Head Monthly. It's friendly and a locals place with good food for reasonable prices. They play Sinatra music and oldies of that era. For a light meal, their flat bread pizza is low in carbs and quite good. Big eaters can order the Pork Prime Rib or Wiseguy cut Prime Rib.
Skillets is a place you can get brunch any time they are open. Great egg dishes including eggs Benedict. Pet friendly patio. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and close briefly in between.
La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant familiar to Blufftonians is around the side of Staples in the shopping center on Sea Pines Circle. They offer great Mexican food at low prices. They have combo dinners for $6.95 at this posting.
Wise Guy's, by the owners of Frankie Bones, the Boathouse, and other restaurants is a wine and small plate (tapas) restaurant up front and an excellent restaurant/ steak house in back.
We have not yet tried it, but Dye's Gullah Fixin's has received rave reviews from locals and visitors alike. They serve authentic Gullah (native islander) food. Cash only.
If you plan to dine in Sea Pines in Harbour Town in the summer, you will avoid a serious parking problem by parking at the lot just inside the main gate, on Greenwood drive and taking the free shuttle to Harbour Town - it runs until Labor day.
In summer, restaurants get quite crowded. Phone ahead for reservations. Busiest days are Thursday and Friday, least busy are Saturday (most people are leaving) and Tuesday (Shelter Cove fireworks). A restaurant that serves 150 dinners one day might serve 500 dinners the next, so service may not be fast. Given kids' short span of attention, consider going early before the crowds hit if you have little ones with you. That way you can also take advantage of "early bird" specials. Please note in many places in Florida restaurants no longer take reservations because of people making multiple reservations and "no-showing" at all but one. Please don't let that happen here.
You might want to check out recommendations sent in by visitors to this site at Visitors Recommend.
Hilton Head has two wine bars and one
Gregg Russell has been entertaining kids under the live oak in Harbour Town for so long (26 years) he is now entertaining the kids of his original fans. This is a big tradition among frequent visitors. The children vie to be ''picked" to sing with Gregg and adults sing along to corny old songs. 8:00 to 9:30 PM Sunday through Friday (2011). Free. 843-689-5440. Seasonal. Gregg runs the Bubble Gum cruise on Thursdays and Fridays.
Shelter Cove attracts many visitors on Tuesday nights June 18 to August 13 2013 from 7:00 to 10:00 PM for fireworks, food, crafts and entertainment for kids. Activities include the Summer Jams concerts at the Shelter Cove Community Park at 7:00 to 10:00 PM. Free. On Thursdays (6/27-8/8 except 8/1) at Kids Waterfun Day, kid's can enjoy inflatable water bounce houses and slides. $5 for kids, adults free. Food and beverages will be available for sale. Plan to walk a considerable distance to parking if you don't get there early. There are some interesting shops with unique offerings to keep the adults entertained. 843-785-1106.
The Coastal Discovery Museum offers numerous programs and events for children and adults, most featuring nature or Gullah culture. For a look at their calendar of events, click here. Be sure to take the kids to their Getting to Know a Gator" presentation, where they can hold a live alligator. Their new live butterfly enclosure is scheduled to open June 4.
Shannon Tanner is a favorite of many regular visitors. He entertains with sing-a-longs and on-stage appearances by children. He performs a free show at the gazebo in Shelter Cove. Monday through Friday. Starting June 19. 2012, he will perform two one-hour shows nightly at 6:30PM and 8:00PM. Free. 843-689-9098. Shannon runs the Wonderful Wacky Wizzle cruise on Thursdays from 8:30 to 11:00 AM on the yacht Holiday from Shelter Cove Harbour. 843-785-4558.
The Salty Dog Cafe in Sea Pines has Dave Kemmerly or Bruce Crichton entertaining on the docks from 6 to 10 PM nightly. Ice cream, pizza, and outdoor barbecue are also available.. Also located here is a web cam that posts live pictures on the web so your friends can see you there. From time to time they have other acts for kids, such as magicians, face painting, etc.843-683-6465. See the SaltyDog.com
Coligny Plaza has a kiosk area with a stage and offers a variety of entertainment such as magic, crafts, and music. Evening entertainment, 6:30 to 8:30 PM, during the summer months3. 843-341-8316. Details are here.
Day Camps and half day camps provide supervised activities for kids. This is not only an opportunity to entertain the kids but to give the parents a chance to do something the kids don't enjoy. At least one includes a cruise, and Island Gymnastics offers gymnastics lessons, art & crafts, dance and more. Seasonal. Check out the "Kids Camps" page.
Nature and ecology are popular on Hilton Head. Gypsy offers a kid's cruise that includes learning to cast net for shrimp, pulling up a crab trap and shark fishing. Tammy Jane is a shrimp trawler that provides an educational experience. When the nets come in, there's no telling what denizens of the deep will be in them with the shrimp (schedule varies). Dolphin watching is popular among visitors of all ages. Kayaking can also provide a close-up view of nature. See On the Water, below. Seasonal.
Bristol Sports Arena offers a skating park equipped with ramps for stunt skate-boarding and in-line skating. Consideration is being given to permitting bicycles also. There is no admission - the park was built largely with donations. Located off Palmetto Bay Rd. on the way to the Palmetto Bay Marina (coming from Greenwood circle it's a right turn at the last traffic light before the cross-island expressway).
Pirates of Hilton Head is a great adventure for the smaller kids. They board an authentic replica pirate ship for great adventures, including battling Stinky Pete.
Kid's waterfun day, is a program for kids featuring blow-up water rides, carnival games, music and fun. Shelter Cove community Park Thursdays 4:00- 7:00 PM 6/27 - 8/08.
Crabber J, goes out of Shelter Cove Marina and does crabbing (catch and release) and dolphin watching. 843-785-4298.
Kid's cruises include the Bubble Gum Cruise and the Wonderful Wacky Wizzle Cruise. See Kid's Camps.
Lawton Stables in Sea Pines offers pony rides and a barnyard petting zoo Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.843-671-2586.
We recently faced a challenge of entertaining four grandchildren (visiting without parents) who ranged in age from 8 to 16. The "bigs" are 14 &16 and the "littles" 8 & 11. How to entertain one group without boring the other? On Thursday we took them to the South Beach marina and enrolled the littles in a beach party that includes games, crabbing, and rides on a Sunfish and motorboat. The program is called Kid's Water Fun day (not to be confused by the activity of the same name at Shelter Cove), is for ages 4 to 13 and is held on Thursdays from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM. Once we got them started we signed the bigs up for parasailing right there out of the South Beach Marina. At 12:30 we got back together, went home, cleaned up, ate, and went to "Getting to Know a Gator" at the Coastal Discovery museum, where they finished the day holding a 4 ft. gator on their laps. Another day we went out on a Zodiac to look for Dolphins - an activity that's enjoyed by any age no matter how often they have been on such a trip. That evening we played miniature golf, which, with a grandparent keeping score, was enjoyed by all. One evening we went to the Salty Dog for ice cream, and the bigs were entertained by Dave Kemmerly while the littles got their faces painted by Cappy the clown. After ice cream we had pizza for dinner (sorry, mom). We got some boogie boards and took them to Folly beach, where there is more surf than anywhere on the island, and all had a good time learning to surf. Add to that pool time and an old fashioned picnic with hot dogs and burgers and all left happy and exhausted.
Kayaking puts you as close as you can get to wildlife, however it limits your
range (it does take some effort), and may not provide a dolphin experience.
not be desirable for non swimmers or non athletically inclined.
Zodiac boats also put you right where the action is. Most hold six people plus the captain and can go almost anywhere. You are almost certain to see dolphins.
Larger boats such as Gypsy and Vagabond and others provide a more stable platform with amenities such as a bathroom, soft drinks and snacks.
Consider the distance from the marina to the area you will be going. You don't want to spend all your time getting there and getting back. Click here for some nature cruise selections.
Water sports are also very popular. Parasailing is a sport where you are lifted high into the air from a platform on the boat by a parachute attached by cable to the boat. Wave runners are personal watercraft known for the thrill of speed and maneuverability. You can also go water skiing., stand up paddle boarding, wakeboarding, tubing and hydrobiking. SCUBA diving and snorkeling are not appropriate sports on Hilton Head because visibility is very low. Our waters are teeming with life, which makes them appear to be murky. Of course, some hard core enthusiasts disagree, especially with regard to offshore diving.
Salt Water fishing can be done from a party boat or a chartered boat. You can fish inshore or offshore. Rods, reels, bait, etc. are provided. Party boats include Drifter and Capt. Hook and charter boats include Boomerang, Hero, and many, many others. Depending on the time of year, common catches are cobia, mackerel, flounder, the occasional grouper, black drum, shark, tarpon or barracuda. You are encouraged to release what you catch, but some of these fish are quite edible, and you can take them to one of many restaurants on the docks to be cooked for you. Let your boat captain be your guide. Complete guide to fishing here.
Sailing is popular because the Calibogue sound and Broad Creek offer relatively sheltered and calm waters. If you know how to sail you can rent a sailboat. You can also take sailing lessons, but most of us just go out on crewed commercial sailboats. Among the most popular are the many catamarans, the largest of which is the Pau Hana. Cheers is a sailboat we have enjoyed, and the Schooner Welcome is a 62 foot Concordia gaff rigged wooden sailboat.
Boat rentals are another way to enjoy our waters. You can rent just about any kind of boat, depending on your needs. We have often found ourselves with large groups, so one of our favorite rentals is a pontoon boat. These are essentially floating patios that can hold as many as 16 people with room to move about. For a smaller group look into a Deckliner, which can hold 9 people and is much faster. Take a cooler of food and beverages and try the lower reaches of Broad Creek or most anywhere in the Calibogue to see dolphin. If you are fortunate enough to see a shrimp trawler at anchor, you will surely see dolphins around it. If you don't know how to read a nautical chart it's important you pay attention when it's explained to you. Our tides routinely run eight feet and there are many shallow areas. Details here.
Dinner and sunset cruises are also popular. Frequently a dinner cruise is a sunset cruise. Highly recommended is the Spirit of Harbour Town dinner cruise on Tuesday, which goes to Shelter Cove on Tuesdays (in season) for the fireworks. It's a bit pricey, but the food is surprisingly good considering the setting.
Side trips by boat are also available. The trip to Daufuskie
Island is interesting if you are in the mood to see what Hilton Head Island
looked like in the 1940's or if you are a Pat Conroy fan (I am). For
complete information, click here.
Crabbing is something many visitors, especially the younger ones, have fun with. Several boats offer crabbing trips, but frankly you can go crabbing anywhere there is salt or even brackish water. You need a bucket, a piece of string and a net you can get at Wal Mart or hardware stores. For bait almost anything will do, but a chicken neck is best (leave it out for awhile till it gets stinky). Go to any dock or even the beach, tie the string around the chicken neck and throw it in the water. Wait a couple of minutes and pull up the chicken neck, slipping the net under the crab attached to it. Put the crab in the bucket with a little water but don't submerge it. Some ice is OK, and keep it out of the sun. If you want to make a meal out of crabs, you will need at least ten per person (good luck). You are not allowed to keep any crab under five inches across, or any female '' in sponge", which means a female carrying eggs (they look like a spongy mass on its underside). You can identify females because the ''girls paint their fingernails red". Never cook and eat a dead crab! If you catch a Stone Crab (two large claws similar to Lobster Claws), be very careful - their claws are strong enough to crush shellfish shells! You may remove the larger of the two claws and return the crab to the water, where it will grow another claw. Do not remove a claw from a female carrying an egg mass and don't get caught with the body of a stone crab, even if you found it on the beach.
The information below is for the year 2007 with some updates.
Family oriented night life abounds. Most of it is described in ''kid's fun", above, and, fortunately, is free courtesy of merchants hoping to attract spenders. Music, puppets, clowns, face painting, juggling, magicians and so on are available for your entertainment. Several miniature golf courses, some pretty spectacular, are located throughout the island and are illuminated for night play - Pirates Island comes to mind.
Karaoke can be found at Casey's Bar and Grill after 9:30 PM on Tuesdays and Fridays (785-2255). They also have Team Trivia Thursdays. The Mellow Mushroom also has karaoke on Saturdays at 10 PM and trivia Wednesdays at 9 PM. One Hot Mama's has karaoke on Thursdays at 10 PM.
For Teens Karma on Lagoon Road was active in 2012. These places come and go, so call 843-424-4016 to see if it's still open.
Young adults will go for places with live entertainment such as
Hincheys, the Tiki Hut, and Wild Wings Also popular is The
Lodge, which has pool tables and is a cigar bar. Local food and beverage employees go to the Main
Street Bowling Lanes after 11 PM on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays for extreme
bowling under black lights and with plenty of intense music.
For the guys there is a topless club on the island: The Gold Club located on Dunnagan's Alley just off Sea Pines circle.
Old fogies go to the Jazz Corner (good old fashioned jazz), or places in the hotels, such as XO Lounge in the Omni Ocean Front Resort, with live music by local favorites.
If you go back to 1945 or so, check out The Big Bamboo in Coligny Plaza. It looks like a stage set for South Pacific. Kingfisher is also popular for jazz and dancing to live music, and the Electric Piano has recently advertised dancing to live music.
Sports bars are the place to go when your important sporting event is not on local TV. Among many are Callahan's, Casey's, The Lodge, and The Dry Dock. Many of the bars on Hilton Head consider themselves "headquarters" for one of the professional football teams and always show that team's games. If you are a Green Bay fan, for example, go to Jump and Phil's to watch a game.
Comedy acts can be enjoyed at Kingfisher restaurant Wednesdays through Sundays and at the Lakehouse restaurant Tuesdays.
The Coastal Discovery Museum is a non-profit organization that explores the history, nature, and heritage of the island. There are always interesting and worthwhile exhibits and things to do for all ages. Includes a tourist information center and a shop. They also conduct narrated beach walks and other nature oriented programs. They also frequently have programs exploring the Gullah (native African - American) culture. Located almost at the foot of the bridge to the mainland at 100 William Hilton Parkway, next to the Crazy Crab restaurant at the North end near mile marker 1. Call 843-689-6767 for more information, or better yet, stop in for a visit. Click here for their web site.
Hilton Head has many art galleries and shops. You can often see a free art exhibit at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, one of our legitimate theaters. Wyland, the renown dolphin and whale artist, is represented at Endangered Arts in South Island Square. The John Stobart gallery in Harbour Town is well worth visiting, Smith Galleries, above the Audubon Nature store in the Village at Wexford, has some very interesting crafts.
You probably didn't come to Hilton Head to go shopping, but if you did, just look in some of the informative publications, above, and you will be inundated by suggestions. When I go on vacation I often look for something unique to get for friends at home who took care of my house or my animals while I was away. (Speaking of animals. you can buy them neat treats at Tail Waggers, in the Village at Wexford). In Shelter Cove Harbor are the Gourmet Gallery and Neptune's Niche among other interesting shops. Other recommendations are Smith Galleries in the Village at Wexford, The Pelican's Pouch at the South Beach Marina, Lighthouse Shoppe at the top of the lighthouse in Harbour Town, Nell's in Harbour Town, and the Salty Dog shop at the South Beach Marina in Sea Pines. On a more modest scale, if you can find any better fudge than that sold by the Island Fudge Shoppe in Coligny Plaza, let us know.
There is one last book store remaining on Hilton Head Island: Barnes and Noble at the North end.
First you should know all grocery stores are very crowded on Saturday afternoons, because that's when most people arrive. You can save yourself some hassle, after driving many hours to get here, by bringing the first night's dinner and first morning's breakfast, or you can order pizza for delivery, or pick up Chinese food or other take out for your first dinner.
Open seven days a week, on the south end are the Publix at Island Crossings (Palmetto Bay road) , the Bi Lo (at Circle Center, 70 Pope avenue) and Harris Teeter in Park Plaza, just outside the Sea Pines main gate.. Convenience stores on the south end include Piggly Wiggly in Coligny Plaza off Lagoon road (actually a small grocery store), and three Kangaroo locations on highway 278 at Arrow road; on Pope avenue at Lagoon road; and in Sea Pines at Sea Pines Center, where there is a deli as well.
Mid-island offers a Piggly Wiggly in the Plaza at Shelter Cove, a Fresh Market at Shoppes on the Parkway (890 Wm. Hilton Pkwy.), a Sam's Club and a Bi-Lo in Port Royal Plaza (at 278 and Mathews DR.).
At the North end you will find a Publix and Wal Mart at the Festival Center at Pembroke Drive and 278 and a Harris Teeter at 301 Main Street, near the Hilton Head Plantation circle. Also, there's a Kangaroo convenience store at Hgwy 278 and Gumtree Rd.
Rollers, on Lagoon road in the Coligny area next to the Exxon, has the best prices I have been able to find. Like all liquor stores here, they close at 7PM and are closed Sundays. Grocery stores sell beer and wine only. In most, but not all cases, beer and wine are less costly in grocery stores.
There are some places of interest to visitors to Hilton Head. They are:
Daufuskie Island, the location of Pat Conroy's book The Water is Wide and which is accessible only by boat, is across Calibogue Sound from Hilton Head. While there are golf courses, condominiums, and gated residential communities, the charm is the sparsely inhabited areas. Much like Hilton Head was before the bridge, most roads are unpaved and motor vehicles are very rare. Travel is by foot or by golf cart, except for a few tour busses.
If you rent a kayak, unless you are very experienced and in top physical
condition you should not try to get to Daufuskie by kayak. Tidal currents can be
very swift and powerful and the water can get quite choppy.
Beaufort, SC is about the same distance in the opposite direction. It, too has a good deal of history and in more modern times has been the site of several movies. My choice here is to tour by horse drawn carriage. This is the home of the Parris Island US Marine training center.
Charleston, SC is about a two hour + drive north (don't use I 95). This is truly the Grande dame of the south. To take it all in, I would recommend a horse drawn carriage tour followed by a walking tour of homes. Many of the old homes are being or have been restored meticulously to their original state. One home has crown molding that was hand carved from mahogany at incredible expense to retain the original structure. Charleston has survived war, fire, earthquake, and hurricane to stand proudly as the premier city of the old south. You can take an all inclusive tour that includes a carriage ride and a boat tour of Charleston harbor, with lunch and transportation to and from Tanger outlet in Bluffton with Charleston Adventures 800-979-3370.
The Mighty Eight Air Force Museum has WWII aircraft and other historical exhibits for World War II buffs. Located off I95 in Georgia at exit 102, just 2 miles South of the Savannah airport. See their web site here.
Along the Way
If you have time to stop and smell the roses between Hilton Head and home, here are two places worth visiting.
Callaway Gardens: These beautiful gardens are located in Pine Mountain, GA, near Macon and South of Atlanta. Depending on the season of the year you can see Azaleas, Tulips, Roses and other garden treasures. Don't miss the butterfly gardens and the birds of prey exhibit. Their web site is here.
Biltmore Estate: If home is Kentucky, Ohio or Tennessee, consider breaking up your trip with a stop at the Biltmore, the home of George Vanderbilt and his family. The estate is steeped in history. Take a self guided tour with recorded narration on headphones, or just enjoy the gardens. The Biltmore is located near Asheville, NC and is well worth the stop. You can stay on the estate in a wonderful Inn and eat at any of several restaurants on the grounds. Their web site is here.
This page Updated 06/18/2013
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