Hi John !
At your price point, I would seriously look at 2nd hand guitars. The thing is that this would may require travelling around to try at least a few so to have a decent opinion of which you liked the most.
Generally try as many as you can, and, as stated above, don't be much hoocked at pricepoints or brands.
It's difficult to judge guitars when not side by side ( even then, different sets stings can make much difference - setup too!!! ). Judging a guitar is something that gets improved by experience. My advice on that is, at every guitar, try to play a few pieces at various parts of the fretboard and try to listen - and feel - carefully. Al the notes - frequencies sound ok? are they well separated or you hear a buzz? how about chords? are the trebles full ? are you happy with what you hear, are you hooked with "this" guitar?
Finally, most of all as you state, enjoy the whole process!