Milk's life was celebrated because what he did for future generations of gay political candidates. He was able to open the closet and the ballot box.
In San Francisco's Castro District, people gathered outside Milk's one-time camera shop, where a plaque was dedicated in his honor.
"For our movement he is a tremendous icon, a person for us to aspire to," Supervisor Bevan Dufty said.
"Harvey Milk is a symbol for anyone who feels disempowered and disenfranchised," Supervisor David Campos said.
"He was a very serious guy and he know how to connect with people about issues that were very contentious in the context of the 70s," Assm. Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said.
Activist Cleve Jones campaigned with Milk in the early days.
"He has been mythologized but he was an ordinary man, he was a regular guy, he was not a genius or a saint," Jones said.
Gay politicians running for office were campaigning and the group Equality California took the day to go door to door in neighborhoods across the state hoping to build support for same-sex couples to marry.
"We try to get inside people's heads and let them know we're just like them and we want the same things they want," Equality California spokesperson Tom Schrow said.
Harvey Milk Day was celebrated elsewhere across the state Saturday.
In San Jose, a small group of gay rights advocates met at Olinder Park.
Other events also took place Saturday in Sacramento and Los Angeles.
However, schools in the Bakersfield area will not be taking part in Harvey Milk Day. Earlier this week, the Kern County School Board adopted a policy that it would not commemorate the day of remembrance even though Harvey Milk Day does not fall on a school day until 2012.
Milk would have been 80 years old Saturday.