Everyone traveling down the East Coast needs to stop at South of the Border – at least once. It’s corny for sure but it’s also fun and a great way to break up a long car trip. As you motor down Interstate 95, there is billboard after billboard announcing South of the Border with super corny pictures and sayings. It is a perfect stop to stretch your legs, use clean restrooms, walk the dog in a special dog friendly area, have a cold drink and some snacks.
Be sure to bring your sense of humor!
Growing up in New Jersey in the 60’s our family would often get in the car and drive (for what seemed like days) down the East Coast to the Carolinas or to Florida. We always stopped at South of the Border. On a recent media visit to Fayetteville, NC, I stopped at South of the Border on my way home and I’m so glad I did!
History of South of the Border
South of the Border is an attraction on Interstate 95 (I-95), US Highway 301 (US 301) and US 501 in Dillon, South Carolina, just south of Rowland, North Carolina. It is so named because it is just south of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina and is themed in tongue-in-cheek, faux-Mexican style. The rest area contains restaurants, gas stations, a video arcade, and a motel, and truck stop as well as a small dilapidated amusement park, a mini golf course, shopping and fireworks stores. Its mascot is Pedro, a caricature of a Mexican bandido. The entire motif of South of the Border can be described as intentionally campy.
South of the Border was developed by Alan Schafer in 1950. He had founded South of the Border Depot, a beer stand, at the location in 1949 adjacent to Robeson County which was, at one time, one of many dry North Carolina counties. Business was steadily expanded with Mexican trinkets and numerous kitsch items imported from Mexico. The site itself also began to expand to include a cocktail lounge, gas station and souvenir shop and, in 1954, a motel. In 1962, South of the Border expanded into fireworks sales, potentially capitalizing on the fact fireworks were illegal in North Carolina. In 1964 it was announced that the route for I-95 would pass right by South of the Border, and the facility would be next to two exits and within view of the highway. By the mid-1960s, South of the Border had expanded to include a barber shop, drug store, a variety store, a post office an outdoor go-kart track complete with other outdoor recreational facilities and the 104 feet tall image of the mascot, Pedro.
Over the years, the billboards with messages some considered racist and offensive changed to become tamer but still funny. Schafer continued to deny his attraction was racist. In fact, he was known for hiring African Americans, helping them to vote, and standing up to the Ku Klux Klan. He simply thought his corny “side-show” was funny. In reality, the South of the Border theme came about when the founder Alan Shafer took a trip to Mexico to buy trinkets for the gift shop. He helped two young Mexican men immigrate to the U.S. and gave them jobs. One of them was nicknamed Pedro, and pretty soon everyone just started calling each other Pedro and a tradition was born.
It didn’t matter what race or nationality anyone was, they all called each other this nickname. The South of the Border theme evolved from this inside joke among employees, and Mr. Shafer’s desire to help two young men come to America for a better life.
South of the Border has been a landmark of the southeast for over 50 years, and it doesn’t seem like it will go away anytime soon! They provide a clean, safe & fun environment for travelers of all types to visit on their way to or from the southeast.
South of the Border Statues
South of the Border has been called one of America’s Kitschiest Attractions. The shops are filled with some of the most wild and silly items you can find anyplace in America. So bring your sense of humor along with your wallet.
The South of the Border grounds are home to a flock of whimsical animal statues. The whacky and wonderful animals are spread throughout the complex, so plan to spend plenty of time when you visit so that you and the kids can find all of them. Unlike the scary creatures that you can find in the Reptile Lagoon like crocodiles and alligators, the animal statues are lighthearted, colorful takes on animals you might find in a zoo. They have all been restored, repaired and repainted as part of a multi-million dollar renovation project.
Eating at South of the Border
The Sombrero Restaurant ~ named for its unique structural appearance (a sombrero) & theme ~ is a family-style eatery where you can relax & have a leisurely meal. Travelers wanting to leave their mark may make a small donation to The Shriner’s Children’s Hospital at this location and the restaurant will match your donation & hang a handsome orange sombrero bearing your name on the wall!
For a quick bite while you’re touring the grounds & seeing the sites, visit Pedro’s Hot Tamale. Here you’ll find short order favorites like fries, cold subs, sodas & plenty of water to cool you down after those famous tamales!
The Peddler Steak House serves charcoal-fired steaks, prime rib, chicken breasts, savory seafood & hearty salads. Open for dinner only, The Peddler is a classic American restaurant that is ready to match your appetite with traditional meals done right.
Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta has treats for the kids in a variety of flavors, and a special line of health-conscious ice creams & yogurts for Mom & Dad. Stop in after a day exploring Pedroland to cool down with a couple of scoops!
South Of The Border offers facilities to meet your every need. The on-site banquet facilities includes The Top Hat Club and Convention Center and can accommodate groups from 7 to 700 for meetings, trade shows, or special occasions.
REPTILE LAGOON – It’s the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the U.S. and is air conditioned for your comfort. Snakes, crocodiles, alligators and turtles. The trained staff will be happy to answer all your questions, and teach you about the animals in their collection. Not only will you and your children be learning about reptiles, you will be helping them too. Part of every admission goes to the Crocodile Conservation Institute, which helps save crocodiles and their habitat around the world.
PEDROLAND – boasts an assortment of fun rides just for the kids. Some of these include the Carousel, SRV Reality Ride (a simulator), Mini-Himalaya, Ferris Wheel, Train, Quadzilla, Antique Cars, Red Baron Airplanes, and Bumper Cars. Pedroland Park also features 2 Championship miniature golf courses – 18 holes each! If you prefer something a little tamer, Pedro’s video game arcade will keep you entertained.
SOMBRERO TOWER is over 200 feet high and its glass elevator gives riders a full view of South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top. The newly painted and renovated tower gives visitors a full 360 degree view of the Carolina countryside. At night, its neon lights glow and twinkle making it look like a sombrero shaped spacecraft!
Forgot to pack something? Visit one of two Pantry shops where you will be able to pick up just about anything you may need for the rest of your trip.
Mexico Shop East is Pedro’s oldest store full of unique gifts. Mexico Shop West is Pedro’s largest store, full of fun & memorable gifts & souvenirs.
When you’re ready to see the largest stock of fireworks on the East Coast, head to Fort Pedro.
If you are on your way to the beach, the Myrtle Beach Shop has everything you’ll need for a vacation on the Grand Strand.
Pedro also has the Hats Around The World boutique with plenty of great gift ideas and memorabilia.
Accommodations if You Decide to Stay!
South of the Border Motor Inn has a wide variety of rooms and suites available. The Pleasure Dome covers an indoor heated pool, sauna and locker rooms with showers for motel guests who choose to enjoy the “Pleasure Dome”. Pedro also provides an outdoor pool.
Each room has it’s own private, covered carport; there is a 24 hour security patrol; Pedro also provides an on-premise fire department.
Camp Pedro is a 100 full hook-up site campground with 30 & 50 Amp service, showers and laundry facilities. Campers may choose to cook their own meals over the barbecue grills provided throughout the campground. Pedro’s sites are roomy enough to handle all of your camping needs! Play areas are provided for Pedro’s little friends!
If you are heading down I-95 be sure to stop at South of the Border – but don’t forget – bring your sense of humor!