I know I can open the Python Console to type in code, and before I know I've been able to open something in QGIS to see the code running when I do something like intersection vector analysis, though I'm struggling to find this again. Ultimately I'm trying to take the code from a linear set of actions and be able to plug in a few factors for new site data, then let it spit out a coverage map.
from a linear set of actions
This statement here suggests to me you are looking for something along the lines of the Model Designer, which you can then export out to Python.
You can build a linear set of actions in Model Designer (eg: intersect, then buffer, then clip etc). Once you have built the flow, you can export your model out to Python (Model > Export > Export as Python Script).