I would love to give you some idea of things to do /see/visit. Its nice if you have a car, because most things here you need a car to do. I am living part time north of San Francisco on the coast and part time in the mountains by Yosemite. But have lived and travel all over.
Are you staying in SF for a bit? Lots to do there, but I will let someone else who lives there write more about the city....
The area I live is a bit north (1 hour drive) and here is some info on this area:
North of SF:
Discovery Museum in Sausalito is a fun 1/2 day with the kids. This area is easy to do from SF. Also check out the Marin Headlands area, the Rodeo Beach at Fort Cronkhite is nice you can look for tiny orange/ red agates there and watch the surfers if there is surf.
A nice drive would be to drive north on Hwy 101 over the Golden Gate bridge and then take Hwy 1 along the coast. Places to see along Hwy 1, Muir Beach cute little beach cove (this is where I grew up), Stinson Beach, big long beach nice for long walks. The town of Bolinas, this is where I currently live, weekends have a lot more going on in town the little museum is open, but visit on a low tide and you can go to Agate Beach to see tide pools. If you walk north up the beach to where the creek is you can find green agates there. http://www.marincounty.org/Depts/PK/Divisions/Parks/Agate-Beach/
Point Reyes town is nice too.
Inland off Hwy 101 are Mill Valley, the downtown area called the depot is nice to walk around. Fairfax, again nice to wonder around, Peri Park in Fairfax is one of my favorite for kids! http://www.justplaygrounds.com/play/fairfax/andyPeri/index.htm
Also Berkeley is close to SF and you can take BART over there.
In SF Golden Gate Park is one of my favorite spots and the Academy of Sciences is family fun.
Other nice spots to visit on your way to LA:
Santa Cruz area the towns in the mountains Felton and Boulder Creek. If you want to see some amazing big Redwoods one of my favorite places is in Felton the Henery Cowell Redwoods State Park.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur area (again so much to see/do in Big Sur area let me know if you want more details)
If you are driving to Las Vegas, Joshua Tree, Death Valley National Park could be a fun places to visit on your way. And once you are in Las Vegas the Grand Canyon is so close you should try to see it too.
For places to stay affordably thats hard, I would check out craigslist and VRBO there are lots of vacation rentals there where you can get a house for a good price, much more comfy than hotels. If you do have to get hotel room lots here have king size beds or 2 queens if that can work for you.
If I'm on the coast in November I would love to get together with you! I guess sending me a message then I can give you my email and phone # would be the best way to connect, I'm not on this site very much. And for sure get my phone # and call if you have any questions when visiting.