Can't help you out too much man, I don't know CA all that well. I have been to a lot of southern california and loved it but I'm not sure where you can find reasonable rent. i'm sure there are places.
on the drive out though...it depends on how you go. If you're going more south then you can hit St. Louis and check out the gateway arch...but st. louis sucks ass so don't do that.
I would take rt. 80 most of the way, pick up 76 in Colorado and check out denver and rocky mountain national park. Plus the drive from CO to CA is pretty fuckin beautiful.