Tossing my advice into the thread a bit late (but hey, I just showed up here).
I just got my license back in November and seeing as how Rando is in the same situation I was in, living in California, no previous experience, and no bike, you'll want to get your license through the CHP rider course. It'll run you about 260, or down to 180 I think, depending on your age. It will take you a weekend (Friday evening, all day Saturday, Sunday afternoon), but if you pass the final test at the end, you get your license, end of story (and they'll teach you how to ride in the first place, which is also important.) After the classroom bit on the first night, they'll start you out just walking your (their) bike across the training lot on idle, and it builds from there - considering I went into this not even knowing how to operate a manual transmission (aside from theory), I was rather greatful for this section. Work your way through cones, emergency stops, etc.
To be honest, over the two days of riding, I dumped myself twice. The first time was caused by an over-zealousness not to miss a cone on a weaving obstacle course, but it was gentle and I caught the bike (mostly). The second time I had sort of forgotten to turn while I was celebrating making it through the weaving obstacle course, and instead of just running through the chain marking the end of the training lot (and looking like a douche), I did the brilliant maneuver of turning sharply and braking hard at the same time, and still looked like a douche as I toppled over. Fortunately, upon their insistence that riders wear boots for foot protection, I was completely uninjured still. Point is, don't do what I did. Oh, but after all that, I still passed the final test at the end (takes about 30 minutes to an hour, they have you perform all the obstacles they taught you how to go through earlier), and got my license in three days.
Which then led to the need to buy a bike. Like you, my Dad rides already. At the time I had about 1600 in a car insurence pay out from someone messing up my bumper a bit, and convinced my parents to chip in some extra cash for some Christmas and birthdays. I think I had about 2600 to 2800 total when done. My plan was just to buy a used bike of Craigslist. No point in buying something new when I'm just going to fuck it up (two types of riders, those who have crashed and those who will crash, etc). My father was rather insistent that I didn't get anything too big - not just because of the potential power to kill myself, but also because of weight. You get something that's 600lbs between your legs (besides my penis), and it's going to fall over pretty fast if you mess up - as I proved the day I shifted my weight from one leg to another to adjust my backpack, and fell over in my apartment's parking space (and mind you, my bike only weighs 430lbs). So really, I recommend something between 500 and 650cc's. It's enough power to keep you happy on the freeway, but light enough that you'll hopefully keep the bike alive a bit longer. Also like you, I didn't want a cruiser, seemed just a bit too klunky at the time - so I was trying to look for a laid back sport bike, or on the minimum section of crotch rockets. Ended up getting a 96' 600cc Yamaha Seca II ($2000 on craigslist, had 2500 miles), featured here: http://www.insanityincorporated.com/crap/bike1.jpg
It's a fairly modest riding position, doesn't have enough power to wheely on its own, but I have found myself pulling myself back up the seat after opening the throttle on open roads, a bit quirky in first gear, but otherwise a good first bike for a cheap enough price. Watch the ads over a week and you should be able to find something that suits your taste and price range. Also, don't forget gear and sales tax costs (which get paid at the DMV when you register ownership). I recommend http://www.newenough.com
- they sell last years models at cheaper prices typically. I still spent 150 on my helmet, but it looks cool, so I'm happy.
It's late, I hope I didn't ramble through that too badly.
Find a CHP riders course near you (google), get your license
Find a decent first used bike on Craigslist
Get something that isn't too big (or small, speed can save your ass too, sometimes)
Pray you don't die in the next six months
Oh, also, another reason to go through the CHP course instead of a standard DMV test, is that I've heard it's nearly impossible to pass the riders test on anything but a small bike, anyways. And personally I just don't want to spend my first few years on a 250cc, so it seems better to get the license and then the bike.