a lot of guys and gals on this board are located in California (CA). I suspect you will get some good answers. I'm in CA, too. I live about 2 hours' drive north of Santa Cruz and manage to surf there once a month. I've taken a vacation apartment there for longer surf safaris.
I think you'll do best with a 9-foot (2.75m) long board. Get a standard long board, not a performance one. There are always so many good used boards available in Santa Cruz. You can find them easily on Craig's list website or by going to some of the more active shops. There are more than 20 surf shops in Santa Cruz area. You will also find many used boards and wetsuits on Craigs list for San Francisco and San Jose. The are grouped together, along with Santa Cruz, under "SF Bay area." There are many surf shops in San Francisco. You can probably find good used boards at Wise. South of San Jose is Pacifica, CA, and its Lindamar beach. There are quite a few shops around there, too. One that is very close to Lindamar has a surf school and rents boards. You can probably by a used board find a used board from them. But, you'll probably find used boards in better condition from private parties. The best private party source I know is Craigs list.
My wife and I each use 9 foot long boards. I'm 5'9" and she is 5'6". My wife started out on an 8 foot fun shape, but it wasn't working for her. It required being more agressive and taking waves with more power in them. I have gotten the hang of this board, but both of us prefer our long boards.
You can get nice used longboards almost any week in Santa Cruz for $300 to $350. Don't forget, you'll need a wetsuit. Many guys use a 4/3mm suit there. That's what I have because I live in northern CA, but think I'd get by just fine with a 3/2mm in Santa Cruz, although I like the warmth from booties. You can easily find used wetsuits on Craigs list and at shops for $50 to $150.
There is nothing wrong with a factory board. They're usually made using epoxy resin. This makes them a little stronger than the traditional shop made boards made using polyester resin. Sometimes they are heavier, but not always. Here is an odd thing to know: shop made boards do not cost more than factory made boards.
If you can get into the water 4 to 5 times a week, it will be wonderful (and I wll be jealous). If you get a very nice longboard, your potential to advance quickly is improved and you won't out grow it. Many of us are as happy as can be riding long boards.
Foam boards are useful to beginners because they provide a lot of floatation. The primary thing needed for a beginner is floatation. They are, however, damn heavy. Besides, get a 3 inch thick longboard and you will have plenty of float. I just don't see the need for foamies. Thousands of people learned to surf before they were invented. it's kind of like requiring kids to wear helmets on their bicycles. How many millions of people around the world for 50 years have ridden bicycles without helmets?! So, my wife and I learned on our fiberglass longboards and I encourage you to do so, too.
You mentioned buying a second-hand mini mal. You can tell from previous comments in my post, that I'm an advocate of buying used. So, I like your thinking. If you go with a longboard like I have, you won't need a second board and know that I bought all three of our boards, two wetsuits and board covers second-hand. The stuff is easy to find at good prices.
Well, you'll have to tell me for sure whether you are going to end up in CA. Maybe we can get together. My home is in the North Bay area and my office is in the Bay Area near San Francisco.