I just spent 4 days in SoBe and liked it. I was staying in a residential neighborhood and was pleased by the access to the beach (4-5 blocks) and mall as well as access to the "strip" (2-3 blocks). Didn't realize there was such a French presence (bakery, sandwich place and a croissant stand at the mall). The availability of Julius Meinl coffee (saw the sign at an Argentinian steakhouse) and Aroma Cafe were things to make mom jealous.
Discovered the built-in 18% gratuity my first dinner but the waiter had done a good job so ended up leaving a few extra bills. Another time I was less pleased with the service, but it was happy hour and the food was half-off (and I don't drink) so while on one hand I was happy to leave it at 18% [effectively 9%] I ended up making it around 30% [15%].
It was only my 2nd time there as an adult. I've spent more time in Fort Lauderdale. A few vacations (a tradition started during Spring Break back in college when a roommate's parents had a place down there - back in its heyday) and my annual trip to the gay football tournament there.
Fort Lauderdale is a bit more spread out, at least from my perspective. I used to stay on the beach, but when traveling with the team that's been difficult (seems like a lot of the cheap hotels are gone). And it's not like I'm going to stumble across a French bakery there, right? (Can't even get a milkshake at the Howard Johnson's anymore.)
Wilton Manors is nice - I like the gay shopping mall and the community feel. If only it were on the beach....
Heading back to FLL next month for the football tournament, and for the first time we're staying in WM. So maybe I'll get another view of things.
In my view you make some very valid observations. The smaller old Mom & Pop hotels along Fort Lauderdale beach are gone, replaced by towering mega-hotels from the big chains.
Some older hotels remain in the blocks behind the beachfront skyscrapers, a number of them having converted into gay hotels and "resorts" (a bit of an exaggerated stretch of the definition). Their gay guests are the ones you'll see clustered on predominately gay Sebastian Beach, named for where Sebastian Street meets N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. (making it easy to find on a map).
Not too many hotels in WM, except a few gay guest houses. May I ask you which one? We know a number of the owners.
The advantage to staying in WM is you've got the gay night scene, to which you can walk (except from The Cabanas). Meaning no worries about driving & DUI, just bar crawl on foot and walk (stagger) back home. For the daytime beach scene you drive, taxi or Uber the 3 miles or so. The winter weather can be problematic, anyway, every day is not a beach day.
The WM gay club demographic is mostly older. Many professionals, but more typically retired, living simply despite their wealth. Versus the Miami & Miami Beach scenes, with beautiful trendy men in their prime who look every considerable penny they're worth. Problem is they're hard to sort out from the straights, since that area has no well-defined Gay Central anymore.
The younger crowd in WM comes out at night and weekends, not surprisingly. Younger places with dancing are The Manor on weekends, and Hunter's adjacent to the Alibi with an older shift. Alibi can be a nice mix when they have entertainment. You never want Tropics at any time, entirely geriatric. And no dancing, not enough room for those walkers.