Anyone who has ever driven north or south on I-95 near the border of the two Carolinas has either been very amused, or a little annoyed, by all of the billboards advertising the roadside attraction – South of the Border. Around 175 billboards can be found between the Virginia/North Carolina state lines and the South Carolina/Georgia state lines. Cute at first but then….
Neither one of us knew that there was a campground here despite the many times that we have driven through this area, we just thought it was a fading amusement park kind of place so I was quite surprised when Rob told me about Camp Pedro and that we were going to stay there. My first reaction was “Really? Do you really think that’s a good idea?” I envisioned some dumpy, badly in need of repair kind of place, not sure why, maybe because I’ve never been one to frequent amusement parks (except for Disney of course but that’s in a totally different league). But it was full hookup, easy on/off and at $29 a relatively inexpensive stop so I was game for the adventure.
Off we went leaving Georgia Coastal RV Resort on Friday morning, May 15th after a quick breakfast at Denny’s. We were headed for Dillon, SC, a trip of about 280 miles, a little over 4 hours without stopping. Our route was pretty straightforward, I-95 the entire way.
The drive wasn’t too bad although there seemed to be quite a bit of traffic but that’s nothing new, I-95 always seems to be busy no matter what day of the week it is. It wasn’t long before the first billboard appeared, followed by the second, a third, then another…and another…and, well you get the point! Even though we have seen these before, I have to admit we were once again chuckling – they are just soooo corny. I didn’t know it at the time but these signs were designed by Mr. Alan Schafer, who founded South of the Border back in 1949, though at that time there wasn’t much to it, it was just an 18′ x 36′ South of the Border Beer Depot. But more about the history later.
Exiting I-95 we found our way to the camping registration office. We had been forewarned by online review comments that if you don’t know where the office is it can be a little confusing, so I had asked when I called about availability. Once you exit I-95 onto US Hwy. 301/501, take a left after the Silver Slipper arcade building (it has a big silver high heel shoe on the side of the building) but before the gas station – this is basically the first left after the Silver Slipper. You should immediately see a small white building with a huge “Campground Registration” sign. The entrance to Camp Pedro is gated and to the right of the office.
At check-in we were given an access card which opens the campground gate as well as a separate pedestrian gate. We maneuvered our way to our site, #177, one of the true pull thrus here with 50 amp electric service as well as water and sewer. Hmmm, this isn’t what we expected at all. Not bad! Yes, the bath house looked older but overall the campground and building seemed neat, clean and well maintained – we’ve been in a lot worse.
Roads were paved, sites were paved, fairly easy for a big rig to maneuver. We had been told that site #177 wasn’t on the site map but we couldn’t miss it – it was the end site next to #176. Makes sense but we thought that the site was actually the road so we drove too far into the site, then had to circle around the loop again and pull in. Somehow we managed to get the only site in this section with a big huge tree next to it, so will we have satellite reception I wondered? Yes, thanks to Rob’s magical wizardry, he was able to hone in on one of the satellites.
Note that in the 30A sections of the campground there are sites that appear to be pull-thrus, but are actually double ended back-ins. But they are used as pull-thrus when occupancy is low (as it was when we visited). Check out our detailed review of the campground (Coming Soon).
Across from our site was a park-like grassy field and a small pond with lots of frogs and turtles who didn’t particularly care for our company, squeaking as they jumped into the water. Pretty setting!
After settling in, we wanted to explore this roadside example of “kitchiness”. I really don’t know where to start trying to describe this place – on the internet, someone said it was a combination truck stop, motel, roadside attraction, carnival and snack shops. It is all that and more – it even has two gas stations, a Motocross MX Training Complex, a ginger ale manufacturing plant, it’s own post office and fire department. Yikes, what a conglomeration of stuff! Guess I would call it a remnant of the pre-Disney amusement park era that has somehow survived and even continues to thrive.
After walking by the fireworks store and the pantry (general grocery), we decided to check out the Mexico Shop East (Mexico Shop West is across the highway) . All sorts of stuff, obviously most with a Mexican flair – t-shirts, bowls, glasses, household and garden decorations, pink flamingos, toys – you name it, they had it! Rob thought he might buy a sombrero but it didn’t take much for me to talk him out of it.
Leaving that interesting shop, we continued. Look there’s Pedro, all 97-feet of him, standing adjacent to the Mexico Shop East and the Sombrero Restaurant. Would you believe that Pedro has 4 miles of wiring and weighs 77 tons? He stands 18 feet deep in solid clay. You can even drive your car through the legs of the “Big Man”.
Right nearby is the Sombrero Restaurant which is located on the same spot as the original South of the Border Drive-In. When Mr. Schafer opened his Beer Depot, the adjacent North Carolina counties were “dry” so business boomed. A few years later, a 10-seat grill was added and the business was re-named South of the Border Drive-In. Twenty motel rooms were added. Today the South of the Border Motor Inn is still there with it’s out of the 60’s style “Pleasure Dome” that covers an indoor heated pool and sauna and a covered car port for every room. Room rates start at $49. Obviously the expansion didn’t stop there.
Continuing on, we walked partway over the pedestrian “Yellow Bridge” which spans U.S. Hwy. 301/501, and gave us a great view of Pedro’s world in all directions. Across the highway were several other restaurant (there are six total on the premises), The Peddler Steak House, Pedro’s Diner, Pedro’s Hot Tamale or Hot Dog Stand/Pizza & Sub Shop, and Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta.
There’s also Reptile Lagoon, supposedly the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the U.S with snakes, crocodiles, alligators and turtles. Since we saw enough creepy crawlers in FL, we didn’t take the time to visit. Pedroland has all sorts of fun rides for the kids, miniature golf courses and a video game arcade. Last but not least there’s the newly painted and renovated Sombrero Observation Tower standing over 200 feet high with a glass elevator and giving riders a 360 degree view of not only the South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top but the Carolina countryside as well. We’ll catch that next time.
On our way back, we wandered through the Myrtle Beach Shop where they had a huge Great White Shark – the sign said it was preserved by a taxidermist but it sure looked like fiberglass to us! And keeping the shark company was a huge crab!
The next morning, we walked over to the Sombrero Restaurant for breakfast. Very cute, very clean Mexican motif place. I had two eggs with bacon, home fries and toast; Rob had two eggs, home fries and toast – we shared the bacon. Very good, great service and reasonably priced. We enjoyed seeing old pictures which were embedded in the table (see photos below). Maybe next time, we’ll have dinner there.
After breakfast we wandered into the Pantry to see what they had. Groceries, camping supplies, t-shirts, lots of South of the Border souvenirs and Rob’s favorite item as seen in the photo on the right. Guess he’s not one (??) because he didn’t buy any!
At one end of the store, I noticed a display of Bleinheim Ginger Ale six packs. Each six pack had bottles with different color caps – red, gold, and white. Hmm wonder what that was all about? I didn’t realize until after we left that the ginger ale has an interesting history and is still manufactured at South of the Border. The red cap is their “hot” ginger ale, the gold is their “not so hot” and the white is “diet”. Never had “hot” ginger ale – wish we had bought some!
Finally, we headed back to the coach to get ready to depart for the next leg of our journey back to New England! Did we enjoy our stay here? Sure did, definitely much better than we expected. Definitely not our idea of a destination campground but a great spot for an overnight stay. Tacky, heck yes, but kind of interesting and fun at the same time!
More about the rest of our trip later….