If you’ve ever traveled down I-95 between North and South Carolina, you’ve definitely seen the billboards for miles featuring Pedro, a Mexican cartoon character with a sombrero and sandals. I stopped there countless times driving from Atlanta to Wilmington as well as to Myrtle Beach.
South of the Border is just about the only thing in the small town of Dillon, not to mention one of the only places to stop for miles on the trek from Florida to New York. But there’s more to this kitschy roadside attraction than meets the eye.
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South of the Border originally started in 1949 as a beer stand in an otherwise dry county. Owner Alan Schafer began adding in kitschy Mexican trinkets to his offerings from a trip down south.
From there, the site expanded its space in 1954, adding a gas station, souvenir shop, cocktail lounge, and motel. They started selling fireworks when North Carolina had a ban on them.
In 1964, I-95 was constructed nearby, only adding to the visitors. South of the Border then added a post office, barbershop, go-kart track, mini-golf course, an arcade, a restaurant, and a tower.
The rest stop is, in its entirety, around 350 acres. There are now multiple restaurants serving Mexican and American food, including Pedro’s Hot Tamale, The Sombrero Restaurant, Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta, and The Peddler Steak House.
You can browse the multiple gift shops selling sombreros and t-shirts, admire the view from the Sombrero observation tower, or take a ride on one of the attractions at Pedroland Park. There’s also a Reptile Lagoon, which is the largest indoor reptile display in the country with snakes and alligators.
While most people only pass through on their way north or south, you can also spend the night at South of the Border. Camp Pedro RV Park can accommodate RVs of all sizes with access to the pool, laundry facilities, and barbecue grills. There’s also a 300-room motel.
South of the Border hasn’t been without controversy, of course. Many have spoken out against the billboards that can at best encourage racial stereotyping and at worst be overtly racist against Mexican people.
But owner Schafer responded by saying he hires people of all races, employing between 300 and 700 people over the years, and has even stood up against the Ku Klux Klan. And it’s true that he operated during segregation, welcoming all people.
South of the Border is a contradiction in so many ways, but it’s also the quintessential roadside stop for travelers in the Southeast United States.
- South Carolina’s South of the Border survives modern times, Greensboro News & Record
- This S.C. roadside attraction is garish, tacky and un-PC — but I stopped anyway, The Washington Post
- South of the Border, Roadside America
- South of the Border, SC Picture Project
- Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South by Anthony J. Stanonis