South of the Border
If the Grand Strand and Myrtle Beach haven’t satisfied your need for roadside kitsch, or if you’re bombing along I-95 looking for a place to take a break, head to South of the Border, the world’s largest and most unapologetic tourist trap. Located just south of the North Carolina state line at I-95 exit 1, South of the Border is a crazy place with no real reason to exist, yet it draws many thousands of visitors every day to a 135-acre assembly of sombrero-shaped fast-food stands, giant video arcades, souvenir shops, and innumerable signs and statues of the South of the Border mascot, Pedro, including one that’s nearly 100 feet tall.
Many roadside businesses suffered when a new Interstate or bypass left them high and dry, but in the case of South of the Border, the opposite is true. It started as a fireworks and hot dog stand along US-301 in the early 1950s. But when highway engineers decided to locate I-95 here, its middle-of-nowhere locale suddenly became prime highway frontage. Owner Alan Shafer (who died in 2001 at the age of 87) made playful use of its location (50 feet south of the state line) to create this pseudo-Mexican “South of the Border” village-cum-roadside rest stop. Though the complex itself is hard to miss, with its sombrero-clad concrete brontosaurus and 20-story Sombrero Tower giving a panoramic view of the Interstate, I-95 drivers from both directions get plenty of notice of their approach, thanks to the hundreds of garish billboards that line the road, saying silly things like “Chili Today, Hot Tamale.” The subliminal messages all but force you to pull off and chow down on a taco or three and buy some mass-produced keepsake you’ll throw away as soon as you get home.
South of the Border is open 24 hours every day, and, along with the myriad of tourist shlock, it also has two gas stations and a pleasant, 300-room motel (843/774-2417, $49 and up).