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Spotlight: South of the Border

Get a taste of Old Mexico in the heart of Dixie

If you’re not paying close attention, crossing from North Carolina into South Carolina near the tiny town of Dillon can make your head spin. Here, a good 1,400 miles or so from the Mexican border, sits a vibrant, trinket-rich, taco-fueled swath of Old Mexico.

Welcome to South of the Border. No, you didn’t make a wrong turn or blank out for 20 hours of driving—you’ve arrived at one of the quirkiest roadside stops in the country, one you won’t soon forget.

The first clue that something is amiss will be when you spot a massive water tower wearing a giant Mexican sombrero, aptly known as Sombrero Tower. If your radar isn’t already going off then it surely will be once you’re greeted by Pedro, the 97-foot-tall mustachioed cartoon character who stands proudly over the entrance, straddling the driveway in what appears to be a pair of brightly colored mariachi pants. Your surprise Mexican adventure has begun.

South of the Border

South of the Border

Bringing Mexico to the South

It all started in 1949, when a pioneering entrepreneur named Alan Schafer built a beer stand on the highway, catering to thirsty folks living in alcohol-free counties just over the border in North Carolina. At this point, it was called the South of the Border Beer Depot. The idea took root, and so Mr. Shafer added a grill to the mix, changing the name to the South of the Border Drive-In. When he added a motel, the name changed once again, to Schafer Project South of the (North Carolina) Border. Eventually, he embraced a dash of brevity, shortening the name to its current appellation, South of the Border.

Today, the 300-acre roadside complex is stuffed with family fun. Visitors can pull over for a quick pit stop and spin through the on-site theme park or hunker down  in the on-site campground for a more in-depth dive into this quirky roadside playground of fun.

If you’re travelling with kids, then Pedroland Park will likely attract most of your attention. The Mexican-styled theme park features a range of rides, including a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, carousel, two mini-golf courses and a full-size arcade. The park is also home to Reptile Lagoon, the largest indoor exhibit of its kind in the United States. Home to a variety of snakes, alligators, crocodiles and large turtles, the exhibit gives an up-close and educational look at some of the most exotic animals in the world.

You also won’t want to miss a ride to the top of Sombrero Tower. The observation deck is at an elevation of 200 feet, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding South Carolina and North Carolina countryside. The ride to the top is done in a glass elevator to boot, so the topsy-turvy sightseeing begins as soon as you start ascending smoothly to the top.

South of the Border

South of the Border

Dillon’s Delights

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 nearby Dillon or Latta. 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 local and personal history of the area. Near the museum is the Betha Post Office and General Store (built in 1888) and Vidalia Academy (a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse).

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. At 835 acres, the park is large enough for a day trip escape but small enough to explore thoroughly over the course of a long weekend. Hop on the Beaver Pond Nature Trail for an easy 1.3-mile hike, or cycle along paved park biking paths.

Little Pee Dee is also home to Lake Norton, which features a fishing pier, boat ramp and a canoe or kayak rental shop. The 45-acre lake is teeming with bream, bass and catfish, making it a popular destination for anglers.

Regardless of how long you stop, South of the Border and the surrounding area has something for every type of RV traveler. As one of the quirkiest (and largest) roadside attractions in the country, it’s well worth a thorough visit and makes for a great pit stop to break up a long road trip. Bring your camera to prove that you visited Old Mexico in South Carolina.

For More Information

South of the Border
843-774-2417
www.thesouthoftheborder.com
South Carolina Tourism
866-224-9339
www.discoversouthcarolina.com