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Congratulations!!! We just had twins two months ago, and I've been doing much of the same research.

1) Apparently there is no way to sock away money pre-tax, similar to the 401k.

2) http://www.savingforcollege.com/ is a good site, with a calculator that will do some of what you want to do, but really it's anyone's guess what future college costs will be. Most college websites will post the cost of attendance in an easy to find page, often linked from their financial aid page. I went to the homepages for several potential colleges, public and private, that I could see my kids attending in 18 years, to obtain the current costs. It blew my mind. I knew college was more expensive than when I was there, but I hadn't expected this much of an increase.

My suspicion is that this rate of increase in tuition and fees is not sustainable, but that prediction is worth what you paid for it.

3) You should use California's "Scholarshare" as Clark Howard recommends, provided you plan to remain in California. The advantage is that your 529 will accumulate free of federal AND California state income taxes. If you went with a good out-of-state plan, for example Utah's UESP, you could save on expenses, but that savings would be more than offset by losses to California state income tax. (That assumes we have significant growth within our 529's -- knock on wood!)
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