There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than canoeing the Charles River and taking in the waterside views of the State House and Back Bay  brownstones. Charles River Canoe & Kayak (1071 Soldiers Field Rd., Allston, 617/462-2513, www.ski-paddle.com , 12–8 p.m. Fri. and 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun. May–early Oct.; 12–8 p.m. Mon.–Thurs. June–Aug., Rentals $7–24/hour, $28–96/day) rents a range of canoes and kayaks from its boathouse in Allston . On Friday nights, the company also offers “BBQ Tours” ($63) that include kayak instruction and a post-paddling grill-out.
The sailboats picturesquely dotting the Charles in all those postcards belong to Community Boating (21 Mugar Way, 617/523-1038, www.community-boating.org , 1 p.m.–sunset Mon.–Fri. and 9 a.m.–sunset Sat.–Sun. Apr.–Oct.), an institution on the Charles River Esplanade for 70 years. It offers unlimited sailing instruction and boat privileges for a $190 flat fee for the season, as well as two-day sailboat rentals for experienced mariners for $100.
To ply the waves of the harbor, Courageous Sailing Center (1 First Ave., Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, 617/268-7243, www.courageoussailing.org , noon–sunset Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–sunset Sat.–Sun. May–Oct.) offers a range of lessons (three beginner sessions $250, three advanced sessions $299, private lessons $95–150/hour).