So from what I experienced the sand can be fairly soft. Although I didn't air down I never got stuck, that being said I would suggest it for tires under 32". Of course if you do air down beach driving is so much easier and way more fuel effecient.
Well I live in Morehead City and the same rules apply as far as I know. I know that there is a permit for atlantic and a separate one for emerald isle. Not sure when the season opens though. Should be soon if not already. Going to be hitting it up when the season does open for sure.