Solution - Coast to Coast
ANSWER – ANGUILLA

So first, when we see the puzzle, we're confronted with a note comprised of two paragraphs, and a grid of words. The first thing we might be able to see is that in the first paragraph, there are some phrases that look suspiciously like clues. For instance, the "neighborhood of San Francisco named after a cut of beef" is the Tenderloin district, or the TL. The "classic four position" in basketball is the power forward, and the "(former) Iodine State" is South Carolina. And then "a common metric unit" is a kilometer.

The next logical leap is to see that each of these clues yields a two letter answer. So, we end up with the following.

formed a company and .. raise some fundsVC (venture capital)
brand managementPR (public relations)
Office and WindowsMS (Microsoft)
neighborhood of San Francisco named after a cut of beefTL (Tenderloin district)
classic four positionPF (power forward)
continually lost the ballTO (turnover)
Audi coupeTT
(former) Iodine StateSC (South Carolina)
common metric unitKM (kilometer)

Ok, so now what? So this narrator seems to be describing some trip that they're taking from island to island, and we still haven't used this grid. So maybe we can search for some islands? But what islands should we look for? We still haven't used these mysterious two-letter codes, but either going from the idea of looking for islands and recognizing some of these codes directly, or from seeing a list of two-letter codes and thinking that country codes is a plausible interpretation. Either way, looking up the appropriate isle for each code, we get the following.

VCSaint Vincent and the Grenadines
PRPuerto Rico
MSMontserrat
TLTimor-Leste
PFFrench Polynesia
TOTonga
TTTrinidad and Tobago
SCSeychelles
KMComoros

Now looking a little closer at the grid, and now that we know what we're looking for, we can trace out island coastlines, boggle-style. Separately, if we do a frequency analysis, we may notice that X's seem particularly underrepresented. Either way, we ultimately end up with the following grid, with X's highlighted (we also see that they're suspiciously located adjacent to islands).

Finally, we retrace the "trip." We must figure out some way to "hop from island to island, thoroughly exploring each one." Looking at these suspicious X's, and noticing that traveling along the X's as bridges we can traverse all the islands, we may ultimately notice that these bridges, going from near coast on one island to far coast on the next island, yield the following strings:

COXST
REIXDEER
TOGXLE
LOCXST
AUCXON
TAXENTS
NOBIXITY
SENXTOR

Replacing each X with a letter that completes the word, we get our final answer ANGUILLA, which fits well with the last part of the note: "now I have no idea where I am! Please help!"


Author's Notes

  • Clues are in kind of an arbitrary order, more for just making the first paragraph in the note flow as smoothly as possible, though in retrospect, it may have been cleaner to give them so that the resulting word search islands are in alphabetical order. Definitely just making a tradeoff there.
  • Separately, in construction I actually really wanted to get the last clue to also be COXST, (so the "trip" would actually take you from COAST to COAST) which I thought would have made the puzzle more slick. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work to my satisfaction.
  • Lots of people tried to search the two-letter codes in the puzzle and got stuck on that step. One team actually just identified that the X's were way less frequent, found that there were words through them, and just anagrammed. One team thought it was a map of Italy (an uncanny likeness that I completely didn't see coming).

  • Overall, I was still fairly concerned about this puzzle going into the hunt since I felt the aha's might have been a bit of a stretch, and because I think this puzzle hadn't actually gotten a completely clean test-solve. Its first solve was with solvers who already knew the mechanic of searching for islands. Ultimately the puzzle was received better than I expected it to be.
  • There's actually what could be construed as a hint in the story text ("you find a short note and a map") that seems to say that this letter grid is a "map" of some sort. This was unintentional though; the story text was supposed to be purely for narrative purposes.

Stats

  • 77 solves
  • 533 incorrect guesses
  • Most common incorrect guess: COMOROS (guessed 13 times)
  • First solve: The Honorable Hallmark Holiday in 4 hours, 11 minutes, and 39 seconds