South Of The Border
Stopping by the South of the Border complex to refill gas tanks and stomachs has long been a tradition on this stretch of I-95 in South Carolina near the North Carolina border. Started in 1949 as a small beer garden, South of the Border has grown into a full-fledged entertainment attraction, with dozens of restaurants, shops and attractions. When you catch sight of the 200-foot Sombrero Observation Tower shining brightly above the interstate, you’ll know that it’s time to stop at South of the Border and enjoy one of the most distinctive roadside attractions you’ll ever visit.
A Welcome Stop
Visitors often find South of the Border while traveling Interstate 95. Colorful billboards let you know you’re getting close to this roadside mecca, situated just south of the border with North Carolina. The popular seaside getaway Myrtle Beach is fewer than 100 miles southeast of South of the Border. The farmlands, forests, rivers and marshes of South Carolina’s Pee Dee region characterize the area. After mile upon mile of farmland, South of the Border is a colorful escape. Expect to find hot, muggy weather in the summer, while the winter weather varies greatly. You might step out of your car to find temperatures in the teens or in the ’70s.
State Parks Aplenty
Travelers willing to leave the interstate for a side trip will find some wonderful state parks to explore. On the North Carolina side of the border, Lumber River State Park is a beautiful retreat. Anglers and paddlers will enjoy the waters of the Lumber River. Catch bass, red breast, blue gill, and crappie. Many hiking trails take visitors through the woodlands and wetlands along the waterway. Hunters should set their sights on visiting the Great Pee Dee River Heritage Preserve Wildlife Management Area to bag deer, hogs and small game.
Full of Fun
Lots of fun can be had at the South of the Border complex without even leaving the grounds. A trip up the 200-foot Sombrero Observation Tower is truly a must, giving you a sweeping view of the countryside. While the giant Pedro statue isn’t nearly as tall, standing only 100-feet, many epic photos have been taken with Pedro and the surrounding animal statues. Spend time browsing the many themed stores. Families won’t want to miss the Reptile Lagoon, which features the nation’s largest indoors reptile display. See king cobras from Indian and American Diamondback rattlesnakes. Make a day out of your visit to South of the Border by taking in Pedroland Park, a small amusement park offering mini-golf, arcade, a carousel, a Ferris wheel and more.
Succulent South of the Border
Travelers can take their pick of a number of unique dining options. For a high-end dining experience, check out the Peddler Steakhouse, an unexpected find. Succulent steaks and a colorful salad bar make this a prime choice. The Sombrero Room offers traditional Mexican and American fare for the whole family, while those wanting a quick bite can find it at Pedro’s Hot Tamale. The true star of the show at South of the Border is the Blenheim Ginger Ale. Using a recipe dating back to the 1800s, this ale is brewed on site using water from the Blenheim Mineral Springs about 25 miles to the east. Top your meal at Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta, where you can pick from a colorful assortment of hand-scooped ice creams.
Roadside attractions have been an important part of the travel tradition ever since Americans first hopped in their motorized vehicles and began traversing the country’s roadways. South of the Border was born in 1949, at a time when families began to embrace road tripping vacations in greater numbers. In the 70 years since then, this kitschy roadside attraction has continued to evolve, without ever losing its fun personality. Today’s travelers will find many choices for food, gas and entertainment along the interstate, but you probably won’t find a better photo op. Snap a picture with one of the eye-popping statues as you take your pick from giant chickens, towering Pedro or a bus-sized dachshund. Then, take part in the ultimate road trip tradition with a quirky souvenir.
South of the Border Beneficence
Though South of the Border is all about fun, this roadside oasis invites visitors to take part in a more serious tradition. Since the earliest days, the owners have given back to the community by matching visitors’ donations to the Shriners Hospitals. Those who contribute can write their names on a paper sombrero to hang on the ceiling of the Sombrero Restaurant. One of the newest additions to this entertainment complex is the South of the Border MX Motorcross Training Facility, which gives riders the chance to hone their skills. Lovers of high-speed action will find four red clay tracks and several training opportunities to improve at the sport. Periodic racing events are held on-site, providing a roaring good time for spectators.
When you’re ready for a break from the bright lights and spicy food of South of the Border, head a few miles south to the town of Dillon. Trains have been passing through Dillon since 1904, and the tiny town still has a turn-of-the-century look and feel. Take some time to wander Historic Downtown Dillon, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In Latta, slightly south of Dillon, history buffs will want to check out the Dillon County Museum. Housed in a restored doctor’s office, the artifacts on display showcase the area’s history. Near the museum is the Betha Post Office and General Store (built in 1888) and Vidalia Academy (century-old schoolhouse).
Pee Dee Wandering
If you’re hankering for some exercise in the great outdoors, head for Little Pee Dee State Park, located about 12 miles southeast of South of the Border and occupying 835 acres. Hop on the Beaver Pond Nature Trail for an easy 1.3-mile hike, or cycle along paved park biking paths. The black waters of the Little Pee Dee River, which runs along the park’s southern edge, are teeming with bass.
For More Information
South of the Border
South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism