In 1949, Alan Schafer built a Mexican-themed beer stand just south of the North Carolina border in Hamer, South Carolina. In the late 1940s, North Carolina was home to numerous counties which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages. Needless to say, Alan Schafer’s beer stand was a smash hit. Schafer was inspired to expand his beer stand into a Mexican-themed roadside attraction called South of the Border which includes a gas station, a steakhouse with an oversized sombrero as a roof, and a gift shop which sells hundreds of items—many of which are handcrafted in Mexico.
A cartoonish mascot named Pedro with a thin mustache and a giant sombrero lets visitors know that they have arrived South of the Border. In recent years, some have criticized South of the Border for appropriating Mexican culture. During his lifetime, Alan Schafer claimed that he deeply respected Mexican culture and was endlessly inspired by the country’s delectable food, colorful traditions, and vibrant spirit. Americanized as it may be, South of the Border is Schafer’s tribute to all things Mexican.
The grounds of South of the Border feature bright, oversized animal statutes including several flamingos, a gorilla, and a green dinosaur. Visitors can view some live critters at the Reptile Lagoon, which claims to have the largest collection of reptiles in the United States. Inside of the Reptile Lagoon crocodiles, alligators, and giant snakes slither about.
South of the Border is also home to an amusement park which features a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and a carousel. One of South of the Border’s most popular attractions is an enormous sombrero which serves as an elevated observation deck which allows visitors to see for hundreds of miles in every direction. From a distance, South of the Border’s giant sombrero looks like a colorful flying saucer that will take flight at any moment.
If you’re craving a tamale, looking to spend hours in an arcade playing vintage video games, or simply searching for a deluxe rest stop on the long drive from New York City to Disney World—South of the Border is an excellent spot to recharge, refuel, and have some good old 20th century fun. South of the Border may qualify as the kitschiest rest stop in the United States. No I-95 road trip is complete without a stop at South of the Border to view some live crocodiles, ride an old school carousel, and purchase a sombrero.