For a bag of pork rinds, a can of coke, and a taste of a little local twang, any old gas station in the American South will do. But while there are plenty of filling stations peddling processed food and cheap souvenirs, only a few are destinations in and of themselves.
Infinitely hard to classify, each of these sprawling pit stops is one part rest stop, one part restaurant, and one part souvenir shop. You won't find anything like them up north — and you definitely won't leave hungry or empty-handed. So, next time you're cruising I-10 from New Orleans to Marfa, make sure to plan a stop at one of these standouts.
1. Buc-ee's in Texas (Multiple Locations)
You really can't miss Buc-ee's if you're driving through Texas. As in, you simply won't be able to not see one. Because the rest stop franchise has opened Texas-sized locations all over the state, the billboard advertisements emblazoned with the iconic Buc-ee's beaver are nearly ubiquitous. That's fine by us: Buc-ee's has won a prestigious award for America's Best Restroom, and just last year, Bon Appétit called the chain the best rest stop in the country.
What to eat: Beaver nuggets, a Buc-ee's favorite and the ultimate empty-calorie snack, they're a puffed-corn product coated in brown sugar.
What to buy: What are you in the market for? Buc-ee's has a clothing line, plush toys, a wide selection of fudge, homewares, souvenirs, and all manner of beaver-branded items.
2. South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina
While it might not be the most culturally sensitive rest stop in America, the vaguely Mexican-themed South of the Border (so named because of its location just below the North Carolina state line) may be one of the campiest. An amusement park, reptile lagoon, "pleasure dome," several restaurants and shops, a motel, and a campsite are all decked out in bright colors and kitschy neon lights.
What to eat: Take your pick of six dining establishments, including a steakhouse and an ice cream parlor.
What to buy: Into pyrotechnics? According to the South of the Border website, Rocket City and Fort Pedro boast "the largest stock of fireworks on the East Coast."
3. Tamarack in Beckley, West Virginia
Billed as "West Virginia's Artisan Retail Center," Tamarack is something of an unlikely mash-up: a rest stop-cum-cultural center. But according to its website, the pairing works — more than half a million people pay a visit each year. Fill up your tank, sure, but also browse the galleries and purchase a locally made souvenir. Depending on when you visit, you can also catch a glassblowing demo or a bit of dinner theatre.
What to eat: Don't miss the Taste of West Virginia Food Court, whose comfort foods — chicken pot pie, West Virginia rainbow trout — are way better than the name suggests.
What to buy: Commemorate your trip to the Mountain State with something earthy and artisan-crafted. Soap, pottery, glass, and knitwear by local artists are all available for purchase. Not passing through anytime soon? You can pick out your souvenir at the Tamarack Etsy shop.
5. Czech Stop in West, Texas
If you've spent any time in Texas, you're likely to have encountered a kolache, a sweet, yeasty pastry typically filled with jam or custard. Czech Stop on I-35 is baking up the gold standard of this beloved regional treat, which is a sweeter, denser take on a classic Czech snack. It's also at a gas station.
What to eat: Kolaches and coffee, naturally. Start with something simple, like a jam-filled or fruit-and-cream-cheese variety.
What to buy: More snacks for the road — Czech Stop is hard to beat. But while a jam-filled kolache is a mess to eat behind the wheel, a klobasnik is the perfect self-contained snack to consume en route (and it'll keep for days). Don't be fooled by the Czech-ish name: This slightly sweet roll stuffed with sausage is a truly Texas innovation.
Have you been to any of these places? What did you eat?