Cardinal724 saidI know you said you want to avoid NYC because it's too expensive, but NYC is more than just Manhattan. Brooklyn and maybe also Queens in particular have a lot to offer and overall they are not as expensive as Manhattan to find a comfortable living space. I've heard/know of plenty of people who moved out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn or Queens for this very reason.
Plus, if you ever do want to head down into "the city" (Manhattan), it's only a subway ride away and you can easily escape back to one of the outer boroughs.
Yeah, I've considered NYC for the longest time. I'm really torn between it and other cities. But overall, don't you think the city is expensive, overcrowded and the like? I would love to visit, maybe even spend a few days there. But living there? The traffic must be horrible! I want to keep my car.
But yes, Brooklyn and Queens wouldn't be too bad. But if I had the money, Manhattan is where I'd be.
Overall though, I'm looking at other East Coast cities more seriously because they are less big and expensive I think, and I hope a city is close enough I could drive out to the Big Apple from time to time. Maybe catch a Broadway show or two.