I've just started working in NYC several months ago (I also worked here very briefly, for about a month a couple years ago, both times in high end places) and until recently spent my life living and working in Jersey (except for when I lived away at college). I'm sure growing up here must be another level, but I have noticed that when working in high end restaurants it seems that everyone knows someone somewhere, and it does make it feel small, even though it's the biggest city in the county with the most restaurants. It seems like I can go up to any other cook and say, "Oh, hey, you worked here? Do you know so and so."
Anyway, San Fran definitely has a great food scene in the area, but the cost of living is also high. Hawaii, although I know nothing about the the food scene, has an extremely high cost of living. I mean, it's in the middle of the Pacific. For one thing, anything you may want probably has to get flown there, and can be very expensive, not to mention every time you want to fly to the mainland. A couple of my previous bosses were from Hawaii and would always complain about those two things, then again, I've heard homeless people have a decent life there. They chill on a beach and fish and if it's raining they hang out under a tent until it stops, so there's that haha.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Las Vegas yet. Lots of great restaurants there and a lot of michelin stars. I would imagine the cost of living is pretty low. Also, many of restaurants, the goods ones especially I'm sure, are in hotels/resorts and are probably union, and I hear the unions there are VERY serious. It's also constantly busy and I image very challenging. I guess it's similar to the city. The last place I worked at had a sous from Las Vegas (shortly before I worked there) and he was supposedly very good but left because it was too slow/boring haha.
You said you did not want to go to Miami, but there are other areas in Florida you may want to check out. There is a lot of money around Naples and so some good restaurants, too. I wouldn't bother with Orlando tho, especially Disney. Everyone that I have talked to that worked there has told me horror stories lol.
If NYC doesn't treat me well, I just may end up fishing on a beach in Hawaii haha. Anyway, my suggestions would be either San Fran of Vegas. And maybe Naples, but I don't know a whole lot about it.
Good luck where ever you decide to go!