I grew up in Wilmington; I went to school there from pre-K to high school. Wilmington is a great place to grow roots: My parents started in 1989.
Wilmington is big enough to meet new people, but small enough to run into local friends on a daily basis. The area, to me, encompasses coastal/southern Pender county, all of New Hanover and western/coastal Brunswick county. All of these areas are easily within commuting distance of Wilmington. The city has a high occupancy rate amongst housing/apartments, so rents are a tad higher than the average of the state.
Primarily, the walkable areas of Wilmington are spread out. They are constructing a trans-county path to which you can walk and/or ride your bicycle. My favorite place to walk (which also allows animals on a leash) is the loop around Wrightsville (a mile or so long loop around the inner island (Harbor Island) and main island of Wrightsville Beach.
Downtown would be your hotspot for creativity. The area boosts in boutiques, local artists, consignments, antiques, etc. There is a nightlife down there, consisting mainly of several nightclubs and dozens of bars. Front Street Brewery actually brews their own beer (if you're into that kind of stuff).
My recommendation, to get the actual, true vibe of Wilmington is to visit this upcoming weekend. Azalea Festival is the city, and region's largest festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. I'm personally traveling from college to experience it again. The city opens its doors to the old historic homes, the blossoming gardens of old plantations and hosts a para