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Things to Do in Los Angeles

With a reputation for red-carpet glamour, year-round sunshine, and West Coast chill, California's City of Angels draws travelers from all over the world. Los Angeles is one of the most densely populated and diverse metropolitan areas in the US, and its 40+ distinct neighborhoods are connected by a maze of freeways, so it's best explored with a guide. But that's no reason to spend your time on a tour bus: Whether you want to walk, bike, or Segway around LA, there's a city tour for you. Hit Hollywood landmarks like the Walk of Fame, TCL Chinese Theatre (aka Grauman's), the iconic hilltop sign, and Sunset Strip. Celebrity-seekers can tour Warner Bros. Studios or Beverly Hills, home to Rodeo Drive and many movie stars' mansions. For taste of classic LA beach culture, head to Santa Monica or Venice Beach. Active travelers can hike or ride horseback through the Hollywood Hills, while true thrill-seekers can paraglide in Malibu, test-drive an exotic sports car, learn to rock climb, or sign up for surf camp. For family-style fun, some of California's top theme parks are within easy reach. Be sure to book VIP-access or skip-the-line tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, and Disney's California Adventure. You could easily extend your LA vacation with a coastal escape to Santa Barbara, Solvang, or Hearst Castle—all north of the city. Or, make a like a movie star and head inland to Palm Springs, a Hollywood hideaway since the Rat Pack-era.
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Hollywood Sign
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One of LA's most distinguishing icons, the famous HOLLYWOOD sign proudly stands on the hillside of the Hollywood Hills, overlooking its namesake city and the movie industry it has come to symbolize.

LA's most famous landmark first appeared on its hillside perch in 1923, as a advertising gimmick for a real-estate development called Hollywoodland. Each letter stands 50 feet (15 m) tall and is made of sheet metal painted white.

Once aglow with 4,000 light bulbs, the sign even had its own caretaker, who lived behind the letter L until 1939. The last four letters were lopped off in the 1940s as the sign started to crumble along with the rest of Hollywood. In the late 1970s, Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner joined forces with fans and other celebrities to save the famous symbol.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame
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Marilyn Monroe? 6774 Hollywood Blvd. James Dean? 1719 Vine St. Elvis Presley? 6777 Hollywood Blvd. No, not last known addresses, just the exact spot for the brass star honoring these celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

These stars and many others are sought out, worshiped, photographed, and stepped on day after day long this stretch of sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1960 more than 2,000 performers - from legends to long-forgotten bit-part players - have been honored with a pink-marble, five-pointed sidewalk star.

Follow this celestial sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Gower Street, and along Vine Street between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard.

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TCL Chinese Theatre
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Stand in the footprints of your favorite silver-screen legends in the courtyard of this grand movie palace. The exotic pagoda theater - complete with temple bells and stone Heaven Dogs from China - has shown movies since 1927. In fact, it's still a studio favorite for star-studded premieres, captivating crowds of all ages.

It's somewhat of a tourist rite of passage to compare your hands and feet with the famous prints set in cement at the entrance court. There are some 160 celebrity squares to discover including R2D2's wheels, Jimmy Durante's nose, Betty Grable's legs, or Whoopi Goldberg's braids. Rumor has it that the tradition was started when silent film star Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement the night of the theater's premier of Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings.

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Griffith Park
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One of the largest urban green spaces in the country, Griffith Park is a wonderful playground for all ages and interests. The park embraces an outdoor theater, the city zoo, and observatory, two museums, golf courses, tennis courts, playgrounds, bridle paths, hiking trails, Batman's caves, and even the Hollywood sign.

For astronomy buffs, the landmark Griffith Observatory opens a window on the universe in its planetarium with the world's most advanced star projector; the Big Picture, a floor-to-ceiling digital image of the universe bursting with galaxies and stars; and rooftop telescopes. At the Los Angeles Zoo, you can wander among some 1,200 finned, feathered and furry friends, which promises to enthrall the kids.

Also here is the delightful Travel Town Museum, with its displays of dozens of vintage railcars and locomotives; the Bronson Caves, where scenes from Batman and Star Trek were filmed; the Museum of the American West.

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Venice Beach
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Southern California’s quintessential bohemian playground, Venice Beach is a haven for artists, New Agers, homeless people, and free spirits of all stripes. This is where Jim Morrison and the Doors lit their fire, where Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped himself to stardom, and where Julia Roberts and Dennis Hopper make their homes today.

Life on Venice Beach moves to a different rhythm and nowhere more so than on the famous Venice Boardwalk, officially known as Ocean Front Walk. It’s a nonstop Mardi Gras of fortune tellers, street musicians, and characters of all colors, shapes, and sizes. This is where to get your hair braided, your karma corrected, and your back massaged qigong–style.

Encounters with hoop dreamers, a Speedo-clad snake charmer and a roller-skating Sikh minstrel are pretty much guaranteed, especially on hot summer days. The Sunday-afternoon drum circle draws hundreds of revelers for tribal playing and spontaneous dancing.

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Sunset Strip
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This legendary 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood extends east-west from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, laid end to end with music venues, comedy clubs, boutiques, restaurants and hotels that attract music, TV, film and fashion celebrities. An assault to the senses in terms of both traffic and visuals, the Sunset Strip is studded with a trademark array of huge, colorful advertising billboards.

First developed as a haven for Prohibition-flouting bars and casinos in the 1920s, rising to prominence in the 1930s and '40s for its glamorous nightclubs full of Hollywood glitterati, and eventually becoming a magnet for the hippie counterculture in the 1960s, the Strip hit its most lasting stride in the 1970s and early '80s, when the drug and fashion excesses of disco, glam metal, rock'n'roll and stand-up comedy made the area both famous and infamous.

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Hollywood Hills
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Whether it’s hiking or horseback riding, biking or busing, there are plenty of ways to explore the well-heeled neighborhood of Hollywood Hills. Its famous bright white Hollywood sign has become an iconic California image and its panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley have made it worth venturing outside the city for tourists hoping to capture the perfect sunset picture.

Travelers can climb to the top of Mt. Hollywood or wander through scenic Griffith Park. John Anson Ford Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Reservoir and Forest Lawn Memorial Park are also popular sites on a visit to this famed high-rent neighborhood, but visitors would do just as well to drive around the quiet streets taking in some of the most classic (and impressive) residential architecture in California.
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Olvera Street
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A festive chaotic Mexican marketplace, Olvera Street is part of colorful and car-free El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the vibrant historic district near the spot where LA's Mexican colonists first settled. Gaudy decoration and souvenir stalls abound here, alongside dozens of little eateries serving tacos, tortas, and burritos. This is not a mere tourist trap: Olvera Street is a wonderful place to walk, eat and explore. It's a great add-on to a downtown LA visit.

On Olvera Street, you can shop for Chicano art, slurp thick Mexican-style hot chocolate, or pick up handmade candles and candy. Stop in Avila Adobe, the oldest surviving house in LA, which includes an exhibit on Christine Sterling who helped save the historic district. Olvera Street spills into the Old Plaza, El Pueblo's central square with a pretty wrought-iron bandstand. Sleepy during the week, the square turns into a full-blown fiesta zone on Saturdays and Sundays, drawing crooning mariachis and costumed dancers.

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Los Angeles Original Farmers Market
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A historic Los Angeles landmark, the Los Angeles Farmers Market is a bustling market of food stalls, eateries, prepared food vendors, produce markets, and much more. You can easily spend a morning or afternoon here browsing the more than 100 restaurants, grocers and tourist shops.

Opened in 1934, the Farmers Market is a popular destination for foodies in search of the market’s wide assortment of flavors and cuisines. The market started when a dozen nearby farmers would park their trucks on a field to sell their fresh produce to local residents. It quickly grew in popularity, especially when CBS Television City opened next door and began providing those working or visiting that television studio a convenient place to shop or eat.

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J. Paul Getty Museum (The Getty)
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In its billion-dollar in-the-clouds perch high above the city, the Getty Center presents triple delights: a stellar art collection (Renaissance to David Hockney); Richard Meier's cutting-edge architecture; and the visual splendor of seasonally changing gardens. On clear days, you can add breathtaking views of the city and ocean to the list.

Even getting up to the museum aboard the computer-operated tram is fun. From the sprawling arrival plaza, a natural flow of walkways, stairs, fountains, and courtyards encourages a leisurely wander between galleries, gardens, and outdoor cafes. Must-sees include Van Gogh's Irises, Monet's Wheatstacks, and Rembrandt's The Abduction of Europa.

When not wandering the galleries, take time to visit the lovely Cactus Garden for those amazing Los Angeles city views. Sunsets create a remarkable alchemy of light and shadow and are especially magical in winter, when the orange orb drops straight into the Pacific.

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More Things to Do in Los Angeles

Dolby Theatre

Dolby Theatre

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Renamed in 2012 when sponsor Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy, this 180,000-square-foot, 3,400-seat theater now showcases Dolby Laboratories' state-of-the-art sound technologies. Situated in the popular Hollywood & Highland mall complex, the elegant Dolby Theatre hosts both the Academy Awards and Cirque du Soleil's Iris, a resident stage show which celebrates the history of film.

Periodically, the Dolby also plays host to charity benefits, movie premieres, special events and other televised award shows. The theater's soaring stage, one of the largest in the United States, has featured the national premiere of Pixar's Brave, the American Idol finals, the Daytime Emmys, the American Ballet Theatre and even President Barack Obama, while out on the campaign trail.

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Hollywood & Highland

Hollywood & Highland

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One of L.A.'s most visited tourist attractions, this 387,000 square-foot shopping mall and entertainment center makes an enormous, colorful splash on the sometimes scruffy Hollywood Walk of Fame. The complex includes the Dolby Theatre (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) which hosts both the Oscars and Cirque du Soleil's Iris, a resident stage show which celebrates the history of film.

The core of Hollywood & Highland is arranged around a three-story courtyard, where soaring, elephant-topped columns evoke the Babylon set of D.W. Griffith's 1916 epic, Intolerance. Fanning out from here, you'll find over a dozen restaurants ranging from food-court outposts to destination dining, two night clubs, a bowling alley and 75+ retail shops, including large national chains like Gap, Build-A-Bear and Sephora. Adjacent to the main mall is the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, an ornate movie palace festooned with Far East flourishes and featuring a cement-paved forecourt.

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El Capitan Theatre

El Capitan Theatre

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Owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company, this ornately restored 1926 movie palace was part of real estate developer Charles E. Toberman and showman Sid Grauman's original Hollywood theater district (along with the neighboring Chinese and Egyptian theaters). Now used primarily to host premieres and special runs of Disney films, the El Capitan is bordered by a Disney store and soda fountain, the latter of which features ice cream flavors named for the theater's current feature.

After a couple of decades of the theater changed ownership as Disney finally purchased it in 1989. At this time it was thoroughly restored it to its initial Spanish Colonial Revival splendor and re-opened in 1991 with its original name. The El Capitan today includes a vintage Wurlitzer organ and a museum room beneath the main theater which exhibits artwork and set pieces from the movie of the moment.

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Egyptian Theatre

Egyptian Theatre

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Developed by L.A. real estate giants Charles E. Toberman and Sid Grauman, the vaudeville showman and movie-palace mogul behind the nearby Chinese Theatre, this 1922 Egyptian-themed landmark capitalized on the national fervor of British archeologists' early 1920s discoveries of ancient Egyptian tombs and artifacts. The Egyptian Theatre's dramatic entrance courtyard bears huge columns and mock hieroglyphics, similar in feel (if not scale) to the Babylonian design details of its neighbor, the Hollywood & Highland mall complex.

The first Hollywood theater to host a national movie premiere (The Ten Commandments, 1922), the Egyptian became famous for its pre-screening live performances staged by Grauman himself; eventually, the theater became best known for long-term engagements of big box office films like My Fair Lady and Ben-Hur.

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Historic Core

Historic Core

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Centered on Pershing Square, this condensed collection of city blocks once comprised the most glamorous commercial area in Los Angeles; after a decade’s worth of rejuvenation efforts, it has once again become a desirable destination. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it encompasses the Broadway Theater District, the Old Spring Street Financial District and Bunker Hill.

Crowned by the gilded Art Deco splendor of the Biltmore Hotel, buildings like the Los Angeles Central Library (a columnar fusion of Art Deco and ancient Egypt), Grand Central Market (the oldest food market in the city); and the Bradbury Building (built in 1893 and famed for its Victorian interior) make this one of the most architecturally significant swaths of L.A.

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Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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As the main hall of the Los Angeles Music Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is home to some of the best musical performances in the LA area. It was built utilizing a “total design” aesthetic, meaning that every detail from the carpeting to the engineering was coordinated for uniformity of design. Historically its halls and stage have been home to everything from the LA Philharmonic to the Academy Awards, though these days it’s the site of the LA Opera and Glorya Kaufman dance performances (which often brings in traveling dance troupes.)

Excellent acoustics create resonating sounds across its four-tiers of seating, while crystal chandeliers and wide stairways add to the ambiance of elegance. The Los Angeles Music Center that it is part of it is one of the three largest centers for performing arts in the United States, and some of classical music’s greatest performers have graced its stage.

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Los Angeles the Grove

Los Angeles the Grove

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This 57,000 square-foot outdoor mall in L.A.'s condensed Mid-City neighborhood draws crowds of tourists and locals every day of the year. Opened in 2002 and designed to look like a city within a city, its meandering layout features faux-Art Deco facades, stone-paved pathways, several restaurants and cafes, a shiny double-decker streetcar, and a whimsically animated fountain beside a grassy park. Since 2010, the entertainment tabloid show Extra has been filmed here, providing visitors a chance to see both a TV production and host Mario Lopez in action.

Surrounded by a shopping district full of independent boutiques and restaurants, and only about a mile from the famous Beverly Center, The Grove's popularity can be ironically attributed to its location. The mall sprawls adjacent to two other major attractions, CBS Television City (where visitors line up to see tapings of TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol) and the Original Farmer's Market.

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Capitol Records Building

Capitol Records Building

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Rising 13 round stories above Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame, this city landmark, built in the mid-1950s to house the first West Coast outpost of a major record label, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Famed for being the site of recordings by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and many other big artists, the distinctive tower, designed by Louis Naidorf and Welton Becket (the latter, architect of the nearby Cinerama Dome and other prominent L.A. buildings) was purportedly meant to symbolize a stack of record albums on a turntable.

The building houses a series of working recording, mixing and mastering studios, including a unique echo chamber designed by guitarist and inventor Les Paul. Though the building has made a handful of appearances in popular entertainment, it was most dramatically featured in the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, being smashed to the ground by a giant tornado (and computer-generated effects).

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Melrose Avenue

Melrose Avenue

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Los Angeles is full of shopping and entertainment diversions, but one of the most famous areas is Melrose Avenue. Even before the popular 1990s show Melrose Place was set in the area, at least part of the avenue was already a shopping and hangout destination for the burgeoning new wave crowd. The neighborhood remains an excellent spot for shopping, with more than 300 boutiques lining the street, as well as trendy restaurants and bars.

Unlike in the TV show, the actual Melrose Place doesn't have apartment buildings – it has yet more shops. In addition to the places to shop and eat, Melrose Avenue is also home to some of LA's best-known street art. Artists whose work you can see along the corridor include Annie Preece, Sebastien Walker, Ivan Preciado, and Jules Muck.

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La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits

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Set beside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Mid-City's Hancock Park, these are real live cesspools in the heart of Tinseltown. While the asphalt here was first excavated back in 1915 (when this spot was home to the city’s natural history museum), the pits themselves were discovered as many as 40,000 years ago by hapless saber-toothed tigers, dire wolves and ground sloths who fell in and drowned. The misfortune of these bygone beasts is symbolized by life-size statues of imperiled woolly mammoths caught in a still-bubbling pool of tar.

Preserved for an aeon or so, the Pits' amazing Ice Age fossils are tagged in various excavation sites around the park. Work is generally slow, however, as the ground here is constantly evolving; around the park and out on Wilshire Boulevard you can still see black, sticky asphalt oozing up from cracks in the road and sidewalk.

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Hollywood

Hollywood

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The Golden-Age glamor image of Hollywood may not be as evident as it once was, however, its very name is synonymous with the entire movie industry. For this is the shrine to the movie industry: stars in the sidewalks, the sign, glorious old theaters, the places where the movie industry grew up.

Most of the sights line up neatly along a 1-mile (1.6 km) stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Vine Street. Find your favorite stars along Hollywood Walk of Fame, the celestial sidewalk gallery on Hollywood Boulevard.

At the grand entryway to Grauman's Chinese Theater, you can actually match your handprints and footprints of stars who've have had theirs embedded in cement. Other famous theaters include the Eyptian and El Capitan, all flamboyant icons from Hollywood's glitzy past.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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Founded in 1899, this is Hollywood's oldest cemetery, a burial ground for some of L.A.'s most historically important and famous citizens. Today, it's a gathering place for community events, like a huge celebration of Dia De Los Muertos (the Mexican Day of the Dead) and a popular summer-Saturday series of outdoor movie screenings.

Its original owners, San Fernando Valley developers Isaac Lankershim and son-in-law Isaac Van Nuys (whose names, respectively, are lent to a major boulevard in North Hollywood and a town in the northwest Valley), sold much of the cemetery in 1920 to Paramount Pictures, RKO Studios and the Beth Olam Synagogue. As a result, many entertainers (like Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, and two of the Ramones) and prominent Jews (like gangster/entrepreneur Bugsy Siegel) are buried here.

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Walt Disney® Concert Hall

Walt Disney® Concert Hall

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On a busy Downtown street corner a half-block from the main plaza of L.A.'s Performing Arts Center and across from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Walt Disney Concert Hall's twisted-metal landmark building bursts forth like a strange silver flower. Designed by Frank Gehry, the city's most famous contemporary architect, and acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, the walls and ceiling of the interior are finished with Douglas fir and the floor with oak. Attending a performance in this soaring, swirling sanctum of perfect pitch is a treat for all of your senses.

Founded by Lillian Disney to honor her husband Walt's commitment to arts and culture in L.A., the Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Master Chorale. The 2,265-seat performance space also hosts an impressive, eclectic array of musicians and singers from around the world. Acts range from the Soweto Gospel Choir to composer Philip Glass and indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie.

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Hancock Park

Hancock Park

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Hancock Park can refer to two areas in Los Angeles, both worth saving time in your schedule for a look.

The Hancock Park neighborhood is an affluent area with a history that dates back to the mid-1800s, while the actual Hancock Park might be better known as the home of the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum. Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered and scientists are still excavating. The best fossils pulled from the Tar Pits are on display in the Page Museum.

Hancock Park is also the home of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). In addition, the park has plenty of open space, making it a nice spot to wander or have a picnic.

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