Penetration of the KOS strain of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and the MS and 333 strains of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) into HEp-2 cells at pH 6.3 was at least 100-fold less efficient than at pH 7.4. Penetration of two low passage clinical isolates was completely blocked at pH 6.3. The syncytium-forming HSV-1 strains GC and MP were less sensitive than KOS to the mild acidic conditions. The inhibition was completely reversed upon neutralization of the medium. Penetration was assayed by plaque production following protection from acid inactivation upon virus entry. Penetration of HSV-1 KOS into Vero and HEL diploid fibroblast cells was similarly inhibited. HSV-1 KOS grown in 2-deoxy-D-glucose and monensin was also extensively inhibited at pH 6.3 but virus grown in 2-deoxy-D-glucose penetrated more slowly than normal virus at pH 7.4. Electron microscopy of HSV-1 KOS infection indicated that fusion and endocytosis occur at both pH 7.4 and 6.3 but that fusion predominates at pH 7.4 and endocytosis predominates at pH 6.3. These results indicate that fusion at the plasma membrane is the major route of productive entry for HSV, that strains of HSV can differ in their pH dependence for penetration and this may determine whether virus infection can occur following endocytic uptake.