October 26, 2021

Baby

Make Baby Yours

A night in the Metro Hotel, Sonoma County’s quirkiest place to stay

The first time I stumbled across the Metro Hotel, it was via the Petaluma destination’s extremely 1990s-looking website

“A little trip to Paris in Sonoma County,” the Comic Sans text promised beneath a washed-out image of smirking clown figurines.

“How cursed,” I thought to myself. “I simply must stay here.” 

Fortunately, when checking into the Metro Hotel on a sunny Friday evening, I found the boutique hotel’s eclectic decor more charming than creepy in person. The exterior is painted a playful shade of red, accented with hints of white and blue — the colors of the French flag. Just inside, a whimsical French-themed cafe beckons, where fresh crepes are served to guests in the morning for free. It reminds me a bit of some quirky European hostels I’ve stayed in — with a few key differences.

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

Outside, a few Airstreams — for the more adventurous — are parked in the garden, flanked by plastic flamingos. In the lobby, guests are greeted by some unlikely hosts: a doll dressed in a maid outfit, a vintage French Guignol puppet theatre and at least a dozen gnomes.



“The gnomes are our friends here,” said hotel owner Marie Saint-Clair. “They’re kind of magic. They protect us.”

Saint-Clair, who hails from Paris, opened the hotel in 2001. The building, just a short walk from the restaurants and antique shops of downtown Petaluma, was originally built as a home in the 1870s. 

“People come and tell us all kinds of stories about [what the building used to be],” said Saint-Clair. “We’ve heard so many strange stories, like maybe there were ghosts.”

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

She doesn’t buy the ghost stories, though. 

“People just like to talk about what they hear and then they repeat it,” she said. 


But the Metro Hotel doesn’t need any ghost stories to make it interesting. Each piece of kitschy decor has its own fascinating backstory. Almost every item comes from Saint-Clair’s annual visits to France, after which she returns with suitcases packed full of gnomes and other knickknacks. 

“I didn’t want it to be a hotel that looked generic,” she explained. “… And because I’m French, I wanted to give it a flair. … We would go to the flea markets, in the south of France or in Paris, and we would find some items that we really liked. And we were lucky because we had a hotel with a lot of rooms we could fill, because often people just buy stuff but then they don’t know what to do with it and it just becomes clutter.”

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

Saint-Clair is proudest of her collection of old French school posters, which show scenes that young school children would be instructed to describe in the classroom. 

“I have a little bit of an obsession,” she said. “I have many that I can’t even put on the walls.”

She’s also partial to her goose lamps, which she dresses up for different holidays.

“All the rooms have a goose. Every single room. That’s my family,” said Saint-Clair. “… I love them. I even have one in my house. … I’d be so upset if some goose decided to run away or something.”

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

Checking into my room for the night, which I access by climbing up a precariously narrow spiral staircase, I immediately notice one of Saint-Clair’s beloved goose lamps on the nightstand. A blue chalkboard above the bed reads, “Le monde appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt” (the French answer to the proverb “the early bird gets the worm”). A red pillow on the bed makes me snort: “Let’s move to Paris,” it reads, and yes, the “A” is shaped like the Eiffel Tower. 

More vintage school posters decorate the walls, and in the bathroom, there’s a clawfoot tub. For $179 a night, it’s simple but cozy and homey, and I sleep like a baby. 

In the morning, I shuffle downstairs for the complimentary crepe breakfast, made daily by the housekeeper, who churns them out expertly. An assortment of toppings are set out for guests to assemble crepes themselves: fresh strawberries and bananas, Nutella, jam and whipped cream. The whole spread is, of course, dutifully guarded by gnomes. 

“We do that for our guests in the morning, because we want to have that little French [touch],” Saint-Clair told me. “It’s just very easy to have that generic buffet breakfast where you have all those things like dry cereal. … We didn’t want to do that.”

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

By the time I’m done sipping my coffee under a blue-and-white-striped umbrella on the patio, it’s almost time to check out. But first, I take another peek around the hotel. Sizing up the gnomes on the counter, I remember something Saint-Clair told me. 

“French people are very big on gnomes,” she said, reminding me of the movie “Amelie.” “… If you go to France, you see a lot of gnomes sometimes in yards. Here people probably think gnomes are a little goofy, but they’re cute. I like them. They’re kind of magic.”

I eye the gnomes suspiciously, half-expecting them to come to life, “Toy Story”-style. They don’t budge, their little smiles glued to their glass faces. At least they seem friendly. 

Sometimes, guests love the decor so much they offer to buy it, Saint-Clair told me, but she can’t bring herself to part with anything. There’s an old accordion she bought at a flea market from a lady who was crying when she sold it to them, because it belonged to her late husband. There’s a child mannequin she bought from a man in Lyon, who sold her the clothes he had when he was a little boy to dress the mannequin. There are vintage ice buckets from France and branches over each hotel bed that a guest brought them from Aspen, Colorado. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

And she’s still adding to her collection. The criteria is simple: They have to spark joy. 

“I don’t like things that are too conservative or traditional — I like things that are fun,” she said.  “We just like to look at things that make us happy that are very French, unique, colorful and that make us smile a little bit. When you look at an object you want to think of something: a place that you’ve been, something you like. And everything that I look at, I remember where I got it, and how I got it.” 

As I exit the Metro Hotel, the heavy red door swinging shut behind me, I see something move out of the corner of my eye and freeze. A goose lamp on the run? A ghost? But it’s just my reflection in the entryway mirror.

Still, I could have sworn a gnome winked at me. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

The Metro Hotel in Petaluma offers a free crepe breakfast for hotel guests and eclectic French decor. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

Metro Hotel & Cafe, 508 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma, (707) 773-4900.