[Photo by Katherine Jessup]
When it comes down to it, D.C. is a pretty city. Condos aside, this company town is largely built around monumental architecture and it is impressive. While you can see all the major tourist sites with a SmarTrip card or Capital Bikeshare and a healthy dose of patience, the view really can be nicer (and literally cooler) from the water. "Find a rich friend with a boat" isn't usually a viable option but luckily there are a number of ways for everyone to get out on either of D.C.'s rivers.
— Katherine Jessup
Man Power. The options abound here. The upper part of the Anacostia River is a bird sanctuary. Rent kayaks, canoes, or row boats at Bladensburg Park and spend an afternoon paddling around spotting bald eagles. Are monuments more your speed? You can rent kayaks and canoes at Thompson Boat Center, Key Bridge Boathouse, or check out any number of Groupons for guided tours. Side note: dimly lit monuments from the water are even better looking than dimly lit monuments from land. So are your tourmates.
Feel like trying your hand at paddleboarding? You can take beginner or advanced lessons (yoga on a giant surfboard anyone?) and find rentals at Key Bridge Boathouse.
If you want to be a little more active in your time on the water, try rowing. Thompson Boat Center offers week-long sculling classes where you can get certified to take out single-person shells. Elsewhere, you can learn to row and join teams at Capital Rowing Club or Thompson Boat Center.
Wind Power. Maybe you don't want to get all sweaty exerting yourself. That's totally fine. D.C. Sail offers lessons and rentals from their location on the Southwest Waterfront. Situated across the Washington Channel from Hains Point, an afternoon sail could take you from the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, south towards Alexandria and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and back by Reagan Airport, Gravelly Point, and the Fourteenth Street Bridge.
Mechanical Power. Perhaps we could interest you in a booze cruise? In all seriousness, not all power boat options involve a mandatory meal and open bar ticket. If you catch a water taxi to Nationals Park you'll see the USS Barry, the destroyer anchored at the Navy Yard with two battle stars for its service during Vietnam, the National War College, and if you look at just the right moment, you'll catch a view of the Capitol Dome. You can also catch water taxis to National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria, almost like having your own Staten Island Ferry experience right here in D.C. There are any number of cruises, some departing only for sunset/dinner rides, and some running regularly throughout the day. These are found in two hubs: the Washington Channel/Southwest Waterfront area (Odyssey, Spirit, and D.C. Harbor Cruises) and the Georgetown Waterfront (Potomac Riverboat Company, D.C. Cruises, and Boomerang Party Boat).