An I-95 Landmark: South Of The Border

The 104-foot tall “Pedro” welcomes visitors to South of the Border, a tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. Pedro contains 4 miles of wiring, weighs 77 tons and is said to be the largest neon sign east of the Mississippi.

Anyone who has traveled I-95 up or down the east coast has seen them.  Endless billboards, counting down the miles to Pedro’s Place – South Of The Border at the NC/SC line.  Sayings that these days might trouble the Easily Offended, but meant and usually taken in good fun.

YOU NEVER SAUSAGE A PLACE!

(YOU’RE ALWAYS A WEINER AT PEDRO’S!)

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, my family vacationed in the mountains of North Carolina, where my dad was from.  On the one occasion I can remember when we went to the Outer Banks, we drove across North Carolina to the coast.  I don’t remember how we got back, but we never went that far south.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. The Sombrero Observation Tower is over 200 feet high and its glass elevator gives riders a full view of South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top.

Kathy’s family, on the other hand, made an annual summer vacation trek to Florida from Ohio.  Back in the 60s, there was no I-77, or at least it didn’t go as far as it does now, so the preferred route was the PA Turnpike to somewhere in eastern PA, probably Breezewood, then over to I-95 to Florida.

So imagine, riding down I-95, July in North Carolina, 3 kids in the back seat of a Volkswagen Somethingorother with no air conditioning, Day 2 of a 3-day adventure, tired, hungry and bored.  Those signs looked like an oasis to a person dying of thirst in the desert.  The closer they got, coming from either direction, the higher the hopes.  Seeing the signs for miles and miles, until as the border approached, the Sombrero-topped observation tower and the 100+ foot tall Pedro statue loomed on the horizon.  Three kids silently willing dad to take the exit.  But he drives on by, hopes dashed for another year.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

So on our trip out to Bolivia, NC this past week, Kathy realized a lifelong dream – I took her to South Of The Border! 🙂  And it was about what we expected.  We had an average lunch served by an enthusiastic but largely ineffective waitress, prepared by what I imagined to be a single moody cook, preparing each meal in the order in which it was received.  The interior of The Sombrero Room Restaurant, while clean and cozy, looked like it might have been salvaged from a former Chi-Chi’s.  We didn’t go into any of the shops, but they looked to be filled with the kinds of things we call “mommy-can-I-gets,” to tempt gullible kids (and their parents) into leaving some of their money behind for Pedro’s safekeeping.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. The Sombrero Observation Tower is over 200 feet high and its glass elevator gives riders a full view of South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top.
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

The place evidently attracts a crowd during peak tourism season – it’s been in business and growing steadily for 70 years.  There is something for everyone – a gas station, truck stop, motel, two restaurants, a convenience store (actually two), a campground and more shops than I can count.  Not to mention the observation tower and 100 foot Pedro!  But on this grey chilly Thursday in March there appeared to be more employees than guests.  It’s certainly attractive – clean and colorful and large enough to make it impossible to miss and almost as impossible to ignore.  I’m sure many strong-willed dads continue to resist the pull of the place, but many more likely succumb to the wishes and requests of their passengers.

The 104-foot tall “Pedro” welcomes visitors to South of the Border, a tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. Pedro contains 4 miles of wiring, weights 77 tons and is said to be the largest neon sign east of the Mississippi.

8 thoughts on “An I-95 Landmark: South Of The Border”

  1. Interesting all these things you two find and share. This is probably not a place I would stop at other than checking it off a list. Makes me think of Walls in South Dakota. You know it’s up ahead 40 miles before you get there. A night shot of Pedro would be interesting although I’m not suggesting you make a trip for that.

    1. It’s the same kind of thing as Wall Drug, just with a Mexican theme instead of South Dakota. A place with a story that they market pretty heavily, although the present day version is nothing like the original.

      I think a night photo would be pretty cool, actually! I told Kathy I’d take her back and we could stay at the motel, but she made me promise not to! 😉

  2. Impressive, Tom! In densely populated Germany I don’t remember anything of this scale, but in newer times at least some fun parks seem to have opened next to highway fuel stations.

    The car trips of my youth were definitel shorter, 1.5 days to Denmark is the maximum I can remember. But this was the Germany of the 60ies, just getting out of the devastation of the war and not yet affluent enough for large scale fun parks.

  3. We have a lot of wide open spaces here, Markus, and especially in the inland areas of eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. The land there is virtually worthless agriculturally due to it being mostly arid sand. There is little population in that area, so attendance is largely dependent upon passers-by on the highway. S.O.B as it is called, is even more impressive because it got started years ago as a drive-up beer store, catering to people from both sides of the border, especially the dry (at that time) counties on the NC side. The rest is history!

  4. Well, you’ve shown me more of Pedro’s that I ever saw whizzing by. I’m even less inclined to go now, so thank you for that! 🙂

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