You'll find a whole new appreciation for some of the U.S.'s most beautiful citiesif you take it all in from offshore.
ONE OF THE GREATEST pleasures of exploring is taking the path less trod. Looking up from where I stand at the edge of Boston's Seaport District, I can see Congress Street sweeping into downtown Boston. A short drive away lay the gems of one of America's most storied cities: the Park Street Church, Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall, the greens of Boston Common. Fine news for anyone with a car and a temperament for city gridlock, but ­Diana Estey and I have no car. We do have a map, but it is a nautical chart, which Estey has tucked neatly on the bow of her 17-foot sea kayak.

As we paddle out through the narrow confines of Fort Point Channel, the broad expanse of Boston's inner harbor spreads before us, and a faint breeze graces our cheeks. To our left rise the mirrored ­towers of the Financial District. A seagull soars across the glass walls of commerce.

"It's amazing how many people don't know Boston from the water," Estey says. "We'll take people out who have lived here their whole lives and they're like," - her jaw drops in mock amazement. "It's almost like the water isn't there."

Ah, but it is, and there is no better way to see a city than by water. It invokes serenity and, better yet, a sneaky satisfaction, as if you have just wormed through a hole in the fence and left the rest of the world behind. There are practical benefits, too. No stoplights, no garbage trucks parked in the slow lane, no one-way streets running against you; in fact, no forced path at all.

Estey knows this. Assistant director of instruction and guiding for Charles River Canoe & Kayak (www.ski-paddle.com), her job is to show off Boston by kayak; her expertise and enthusiasm are precisely why I have come with her.